Why Jeremy Corbyn failed
It would be churlish to complain that Mr Jeremy Corbyn is/was no leader, when no other high profile politician (with a very few exceptions) has been a leader either *. I like to think that Shirley Williams is one, but I would have to go back to Churchill to think of another **.
Of course, by ‘leader’, I am applying the usual emotional intelligence at work definition, essentially someone who embodies the motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst: namely Serve to lead [*1][*2].
Serve to lead means: if you expect, Mr or Ms Trainee Officer, that you are going to lead that squad of experienced soldiers, you need to be in service to them first. And that ethos continues when the officers are no longer trainees, but are leading in wars as well as in peace keeping duties.
And being in service is nothing to do with servitude or inferiority. Although I am no religionist, it is as Jesus said, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant” [*3].
This style of leadership is not some aberration of Jesus and Sandhurst. There is corroboration for this approach from all centuries, though am not going to exhaustively document it here. But take this [*4]:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists; Not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him; but a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say ‘We did it ourselves!’
Or even this [*5]:
I once said, as a sort of wisecrack, that leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.
A practical, businesslike way of being a leader is to consider that what a leader does is to create a ‘facilitating environment’ in which the individual, the team and the enterprise thrives. The term ‘facilitating environment’ comes from DW Winnicott [*6] (and I explain this elsewhere [*7]), though it really only means what you would think it means. It’s an environment, a context, which facilitates or enables (or empowers, if you must) other people to grow and thrive.
So, I am treating the Labour party as if it were a business and Corbyn as if he were the CEO. I know that it isn’t and he isn’t, but it is more than a good start, and many organisations, whether they be third sector or public sector, or something else, would benefit by adopting a modern businesslike approach.
So, is Corbyn creating a facilitating environment in which the individual, the team and the enterprise thrives?
I can’t speak for individuals. However, even as I write this (11am, 26 june), the prospect of nine shadow cabinet members resigning, one having already resigned [now six—1:15pm] [now 19 and two who “cannot resign but say they won’t attend under Corbyn” [*10]—7:40 pm, 27 june] and one been sacked overnight [*8] really speaks to a complete failure to unify ‘the team’.
Of course, as soon as he was elected ‘leader’ [*9] (I prefer the word ‘boss’ and will use it from now on), a significant number of Labour MPs, on the right of the party, were disenchanted with him, are still disenchanted with him, and are determined to be disenchanted with him until the day they die. It is impossible to lead a team if it’s divided into at least two groups, at odds with each other. However difficult, this was the issue he had to address as soon as he got his knees under whatever table Labour bosses get their knees under.
To have failed—apparently—to do that nine months after the ‘leadership’ election is not good. Indeed, he appears to have made no progress at all.
He has a problem.
His problem is that his views, however acceptable they are to however many people, are irrelevant to any qualities of leadership that are needed to lead a political party. Leaders do not impose their views on others, even if the others want them to, and especially if the others want them to.
Of course, I realise that that is an opinion which almost every one engaged in politics would reject and, indeed, many of them wouldn’t understand. But who is going to stand up for the current political system as an expression of democracy (it isn’t) or fairness or tolerance or compassion or any other positive characteristic when it is none of those things? Political bosses and other high profile politicians are self selecting: their particular balance of neuroses, immaturity, ignorance, stupidity and weakness make them ideally suited to success in our system.
Corbyn wanted to be different because of his views and because of his style. But that is just ego, the antithesis of leadership. 2600 years ago, Lao-Tzu had it right (see above).
One of the most dangerous people in the world is a ‘conviction politician’. Why should any country suffer from the ideas of some politician with an overweening attachment to their own rightness and wonderfulness? It is no more justified for Corbyn, than it was for Thatcher. Not one iota.
* For the record, I was a Liberal, then Liberal Democrat supporter in both local and national elections until the 2010 general election. In 2010, I voted for the Labour candidate, David Drew, on the basis that he was head and shoulders above the other candidates for the job, and voted for him again in 2015. On both occasions, I was clear that I was voting for Drew, not for the Labour party.
** Please offer suggestions at the usual address for other political leaders since the war.
[*1] Effective leadership
[*2] Leadership is an attitude
[*3] The bible, Mark 10:43
[*4] Lao-Tzu, sixth century BCE, Chinese philosopher, Tao te ching, ch 17
[*5] Dwight Eisenhower, 1890-1969, American soldier and politician, quoted, Nineteen stars (Puryear)
[*6] DW Winnicott, The maturational processes and the faciltiating environment (1965, Hogarth Press)
[*7] What is a ‘facilitating environment’?
[*8] Half of Labour shadow cabinet set to resign after Hilary Benn sacked (Daniel Boffey, Claire Phipps and Anushka Asthana, the Guardian, 26 june 2016)
[*9] Jeremy Corbyn [Wikipedia]
[*10] Shadow cabinet resignations: who has gone and who is staying (Rajeev Syal and Frances Perraudin and Nicola Slawson, the Guardian, 27 june 2016)
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