Reading the newspapers and watching television since the election, I recalled reading St. Paul’s injunction to “hate the act but love the man”. It struck me that it would be extremely hard for Jeremy Corbyn to follow that advice. Having been subjected to an even more scurrilous and defamatory media than that visited on Neil Kinnock in Thatcher’s heyday, and despite Jeremy’s astounding election campaign, the self-righteous commentators of the London chatterati are still – at best – damning him with faint praise when they are not vilifying him.
However, there are profound lessons to be learnt from the events of the past few weeks and Labour’s performance. The bilious bias of a toxic media can be overcome. The advances in the use of social media, for example, connect far more effectively, particularly with younger voters, than do the fake news of conventional media. We saw the result of this last Thursday. Of course, communication tools, of themselves, are not enough – the message is vital. As the Tories discovered, if the message jars with the audience, you have failed. Happily, Labour had a manifesto which reflected the political priorities of a wide range of voters and the election results showed that.
For many, it was the messenger who was the biggest surprise. As an MP, I would never have nominated Jeremy for leader. Nothing personal – I have always got on rather well with him. I just did not think he had the inter-personal skills I believe a leader should have. Nor was I inspired by some of his political friends. Nevertheless, I had no idea that he was capable of connecting with so many voters – especially the young – in the way in which he did. All credit to him. Now, we must await developments in Westminster.
What lessons, then, can be learnt here in the Liverpool City Region from the national campaign outcomes? Firstly, we must NEVER underestimate the electorate’s ability to see through spin and deceit. Voters know what they want. Offer it to them where you can, in an honest and realistic way, and they will turn out to vote for you. Give them flannel, and they will, if you are lucky, ignore you.
Secondly, we need to understand what leadership is and is not. It is NOT shouting and bullying to get your own way; nor is it, like Theresa May, keeping everything within a tight little circle of cronies. (she even kept her manifesto from her cabinet colleagues). Look what has happened to the Tories. They have gone from political power to political paralysis in a matter of days, despite the overwhelming support of the right-wing media. Politics MUST be open and consensual.
Thirdly, Labour locally must recognise that politics have changed, with a new dynamic spearheaded by young voters and activists who have no interest in the old political cabals. I was asked by one such enthused individual about Labour of old. I said that the best government in my lifetime was that of Clem Atlee.
A quiet, modest and unprepossessing man, he was not afraid to surround himself with the best talents around, and give them their head. He offered a war-weary electorate their priorities – health, welfare housing, education, and public ownership of key industries. People power responded with a parliament to deliver the welfare state which we now take for granted. Surely there are lessons therein to inspire a satisfactory local disposition – traditional values in a modern setting?