As 12th December draws closer, the name-calling and bickering of party politics intensifies, and pub debates heat up as left- and right-wingers — and those middle-ground people who don’t know where to look — fight their corners. ‘He’s an anti-semite, and he was in the IRA’ they shout. ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ the Labour devotees chant back. You’d be forgiven for opting out of the process altogether, lest a fight breaks out and somebody gets swilled for saying the wrong thing.
It’s clear, however, that many working-class people just don’t like Jeremy Corbyn. Painted as the political version of an allotment-owning Hannibal Lecter — despite the fact that he visibly lacks any threatening qualities — there are plenty of people who believe that Corbyn is ‘slimy,’ or that he hates Jews, or that he really, genuinely squashed somebody’s baby rabbit with his pogo stick on Christmas Day in 1962. In short, he’s rarely, if ever, flavour of the month.
The 70-year-old Leader of the Opposition, who was photographed being pulled away from an anti-apartheid protest by police in 1984, is, however, in stark contrast to his Tory counterparts. Wannabe Prime Minister Boris Johnson was elected secretary of the Oxford Union in the same year, and was probably too busy writing racist junk in The Spectator to give a shit about the South African apartheid. Hardly a man of the people — and rarely a man on the right side of history — he is nevertheless viewed as less of a threat by much of the working-class. But why?
Corbyn has been hounded by the media
The relatively unfounded hounding of Jeremy Corbyn can seem like the equivalent of somebody pointing a firework at your Grandad on the bus, just because he looks a bit vulnerable and his glasses are crooked. Sure, politicians rarely get a positive write-up in the press, but Corbyn has been defecated on by Murdoch et al.’s newspaper empire more than any political candidate in modern times, to such an extent that he’s labelled as the IRA’s mega-overlord without people really knowing why.
Research conducted by the LSE’s Department of Media and Communications found that Corbyn was ‘disproportionately attacked and delegitimised,’ and that ⅔ of all opinion pieces and editorials on him were ‘negative or antagonistic’. This includes left-wing newspapers, who criticised him for being too far left, unrealistic, and generally unelectable. With rifts in the Labour Party, the stats also show that more anti-Corbyn MPs write for newspapers than those who support the Leader of the Opposition.
Corbyn has also been associated with terrorism by the press, with The Daily Express (as an example) including the words or themes: Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, IRA or terrorism in general throughout 20% of their coverage on the Labour leader. Ironically, in 52% of the articles on Corbyn his own views are absent, which naturally lends itself to unfounded personal attacks from journalists and other political figures.
With Corbyn generally being presented as a terrorist sympathiser by the press, there is a large section of working-class voters who would rather have their votes (metaphorically) pulled out of their cold, dead hands before voting Labour was even an option at the ballot box. Mass media has a huge influence over the way that voters think and act, and with such a bias against him, Corbyn doesn’t seem to stand a chance.
He isn’t a strong leader
One of the predominant issues with Jeremy Corbyn is that he doesn’t appear strong to voters. No matter what your political stance is, you’d have to really, really use your imagination to try and picture him at the negotiating table with world leaders. This is probably to his credit as a human being, but doesn’t bode well in the world of politics, where being a strong orator (read: being good at lying) is prioritised above values that should be more useful in politics, such as, you know, telling the truth and thinking about your constituents.
As far as strong politicians go, Corbyn doesn’t measure up well. According to a YouGov poll, 21% of people believe that Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister, closely followed by Winston Churchill with 19%. The two are associated with unrelenting political determination (even though they may have ruined working-class communities) and the poll results show that this is what voters seek, with 59% of people believing that Thatcher would have done a better job than Theresa May in the Brexit negotiations.
Without getting overly philosophical about the whole thing, it seems that Machiavelli’s 16th-century leading-for-dummies guide, The Prince, is relevant here:
He’s an old-school Marxist who wants to trash the economy
Corbyn has also been portrayed as an old-school commie, who’s here for a rerun of the Russian Revolution. In an article from notorious shit-rag The Sun, the Labour leader is presented as a ‘pro-Communist ‘pacifist’ […] better known for cheering Britain’s enemies than its allies.’ It continues:
A Survation poll found the overwhelming majority knew about Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, yet barely a quarter had heard of Soviet dictator Josef [sic] Stalin, who presided over twice as many deaths. Corbyn may not be very bright, but even he must know these hideous statistics.
Yet you will never hear a word of criticism from him about Russia, a real and present military threat to Western Europe, or China, which is steadily buying up the world.
Whilst it’s a bit of a sore subject, nationalism is of importance to many working-class people. If the aim is rescuing our traditional British values from immigrants, terrorists and yes, even the Germans, and Corbyn is seen to side with these ‘enemies,’ then he’s a non-starter for many working-class voters. British war heroes fought for our freedom, and the Labour Party are viewed as people who disrespect this, no matter how much wreath-laying they do.
He’s the same as the rest of them
Although Corbyn’s manifesto is jam-packed with left-wing policies, his background was pretty cushty. He didn’t have a ‘normal’ working-class life, and in the eyes of many, he’s just as difficult to relate to as any other politician. His 17th-century childhood home, Yew Tree Manor, was once part of the Duke of Sutherland’s Lilleshall estate. He went to a boys grammar school now known as Haberdashers’ Adams, although he flunked his A-levels and dropped out of a Trade Union Studies course at North London Polytechnic without getting his degree.
It’s easy to see why people see him as kind of like that guy in the university Marxist Society who keeps asking you whether you’ve read Das Kapital. Ok, he is the politician showing the most interest in working-class people right now, but it may be that some people see him as just another privately-educated face at the top of an extremely underwhelming political body pile. Promises of free broadband aren’t really working in his favour, as people are starting to believe that he got his economic know-how from Marx himself.
This isn’t to discredit the economic viability of the Labour manifesto (which has, by the way, gained approval from 163 economists and academics, including those from UCL, LSE and the University of Oxford). The issue here is that people struggle to relate to politicians in general, and Corbyn may not be the groundbreaking messiah figure that evokes lauding from many of those on the left. Though Eton-educated Tories are surely more far removed from the lives of normal people than Corbyn, his university-like Marxist persona is a noticeable turn-off.
He hasn’t taken a stance on Brexit
Whilst Corbyn confirmed his stance on Brexit in a recent verbal boxing match against Boris Johnson, it’s the first time that he’s really taken a stand on the topic. Sure, he can say that he’s going to let the voters decide — which is arguably his role as a representative — but being apparently opinionless during this vital time hasn’t worked out in his favour. Unfortunately, for much of the electorate it was simply too little, too late for the Labour leader.
Despite the fact that Brexit is all that we’ve heard about in the political sphere for the past millennium, it is an important issue for working-class voters. The London ‘liberal elite’ voted firmly to remain in the EU — and with characteristic tone-deafness asked whether they could exclusively stay in the union — whereas much of the North opted for leave. As some have argued, this may have been a protest vote from the disenfranchised; a way for them to become ‘visible’ politically.
Corbyn’s classic on-the-fence attitude doesn’t really cut it for working-class voters, who are even less interested in a second referendum. This only adds to the sense that their political voice has been deemed illegitimate, and requires some kind of re-run in the future. For many people, it is important to get Brexit right, but with Corbyn avoiding the repetitive ‘get Brexit done’ spiel, he’s seen as somebody who is up and down on the issue. This only lessens his appeal to the working-class electorate.
Labour’s Momentum is awful
Like the Bullingdon Club for people who were bullied by the Bullingdon Club, Momentum’s favourite pastime is telling Tory- and Brexit-voting working-class people that they’re stupid, gammon-faced football hooligans. They then proceed to act as though it’s a wonder that any of these poorly-educated voters could even put a cross in the Conservative box at the polling booth. Can working-class people even, you know, write? Much of the Labour crowd aren’t people that you’d ever want to bump into at a party.
This cult-like atmosphere is hardly inviting to those who are considering left-wing politics. As though no rational decision-making could be behind their voting choices, the working-class are seen as inherently stupid individuals who need saving by intelligent, middle-class liberals. A cringe-worthy affair, Momentum even send shivers down the spines of those who are proudly left-wing. Labour supporters generally have a way of berating working-class people who use their votes against the party, further alienating them from Corbyn and his objectives.
Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn is at the heart of this pretty weird group, and people subsequently associate him with middle-class university toffs, whose infighting consists of matters such as gender-neutral toilets and what the answer to the Israel-Palestine debate is. Whilst these things are important issues in their own right, few working-class people care about — or understand — them. This visibly exclusive middle-class debate removes the Labour Party further from working people, and isn’t good news for Corbyn.
His politics aren’t in line with their beliefs
Whilst it may not be a common narrative, working-class people have their own political beliefs and values. It’s not as simple as saying that they’re shooting themselves in the foot, or that they don’t know what they’re doing when they head off to vote (or when they decide to abstain altogether). In fact, it’s pretty toxic to believe that working-class people can’t form their own opinions, or that these opinions are, by default, inherently wrong.
They may just dislike Labour and Corbyn, and not feel as though he is the ultimate answer to their problems. They may remember the failings of past socialist governments and not want to experience them again. They may be small business owners, who are worried about potential increases in tax rates. They may not want an open borders approach to immigration. Whatever their views are, they have the same right to a political opinion as their middle-class counterparts.
It’s important to remember that the removal of working-class vilification in politics is essential if we want to create a different narrative, that isn’t dominated by the right-wing media or middle-class left-wingers who exclude an entire class from their thought. Homeless people, working-class people, and much of the electorate, in fact, are hardly anticipating a life-changing result tomorrow, whether a Labour coalition is formed or they fall back into the hands of a toxic Tory government.
Featured image: New Statesman, 2019.