Corbyn: Britain’s first X Factor leader?

Corbyn: Britain’s first X Factor leader?


But how now to survive in the Social Media age?

Jedward may not, on the face of it, have much in common with Jeremy Corbyn. One is an irritating novelty act, swept up in a collective wave of public enthusiasm to a prominence far beyond which natural ability alone would justify; the other is an Irish pop duo. Ba-dum-tish. Unfair? Of course: Jedward mostly hit the right note. And so the jokes go on.

This summer might have been witness to a political revolution but in a wider context it’s merely the latest aspect of a much wider – and much older – phenomenon: that of the disposable celebrity. What’s new is the interaction between talent show and public voting that’s driven their rise and the spillover from light entertainment to the serious business of governing and legislating. But as elections are ultimately talent contests with different prizes, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised.

Actually, it’s not a wholly new phenomenon: the first instance of it might well have been the election by the Hartlepool voters of a monkey as their mayor (or more accurately, a guy wearing a monkey suit). As it happened, that worked out surprisingly well, with Stuart Drummond twice going on to win re-election, but it was a complete roll of the dice all the same. Drummond also had the advantage over Corbyn in not coming to office with more baggage than an army on tour.

Except while the public may be having a laugh, Jeremy Corbyn isn’t. You could argue that the public isn’t having a laugh either; that Corbyn’s rise is due to a mix of entryism from the far-left and wishful thinking from a portion of the Labour mainstream, and to an extent that’s true. However the effect remains much the same: decisions are being taken for the high of the moment and without any great regard for the consequences down the line. But the mandate remains the same whatever the reasoning.

As an aside, I’m doubtful as to whether Corbyn has ever had a laugh, which is never a particularly good sign in a politician or anyone else. Governing is a serious business but a sense of humour’s not only very humanising but also tends to prevent a politician turning into a crusading ideologue for whom every battle is of the utmost importance and therefore any means justify the noble ends. A good sense of detachment – essential in humour – helps to guard against that.

Which brings us back to social media. There’s been plenty of speculation about the likely attacks on Corbyn from the Tories, from other parties and from the media. They undoubtedly will happen but can also be discounted to quite an extent because it’s how the game has always been played and how the public expects it to be played. But much as the media love to pull down someone they’ve built up, more dangerous still to Corbyn is the same beast that made him: the public itself. Quicker, more imaginative and probably crueller than the mainstream media, social satire can destroy a political campaign in hours, never mind days: the Tory election campaign in 2010 never really recovered from the infinite variety of online spoofs of their Dave posters. Likewise, mock-ups – and mock is very much the right word – can be brutal in establishing and maintaining a public image sufficiently close to reality for it to be difficult to the casual observer to distinguish between the two, even if they want to. The best go viral with a speed and reach that a party strategist or even media mogul could only dream of.

Most X factor contestants, even finalists, fail to establish themselves outside the show and few at all have lasting careers. The person Labour chooses now as their leader is likely to have to wait close to five years before they even make it to their final. The novelty may well have worn thin by then.

David Herdson

p.s. Of course, Corbyn might not win and if you think not, you could still get 12/1 for Cooper and 33/1 for Burnham with various bookies at the time of writing but that’s for another thread. The next one, in fact.

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