The crinkled-shirt-wearing, smarmy smile baring Corbyn strolled out onto the Question Time stage last week to take on his challenger Owen Smith. Smith was flustered from the moment that the first ardent Corbynista began their wild hand gestures and angry insults and the show didn’t improve from there. David Dimbleby, with mildly irritated facial expressions that were conveying the mood of most of the viewers more adeptly than the sycophantic pleas of either candidate, made increasingly obvious attempts to introduce some balance into the debate. “We’ve heard from the Corbyn supporters, now let’s hear from a staunch Smith supporter”. In return he got an irate gentlemen about six rows back, who offered us no more support for his chosen candidate than the justification that he was the best of a bad bunch. The Labour members love Corbyn, and he fascinates even those who don’t, but as much as this broadcast showed us wild support for this raggedy hero, I believe it also foreshadowed his fall.
Corbyn is a politician who built himself almost from scratch in the last few years. He is known as the man stuck in the past, longing for the days of trade union power and scratchy beards to make their comeback. His primary appeal is his conviction: he’s been saying the same things for decades and he’s not one of the lying, power-hungry elite. Finally he is reaping the rewards and people are taking note. They want a new type of Labour where what Corbyn believes, Corbyn does. He fights for the groups left out of politics currently, the young, the hard left and the poor. Right up until the EU referendum I would have agreed: whatever you had to say about Corbyn, he was man of principle.
The EU referendum was the first time that his own principles, his mob of adoring young people, the push and pull of Westminster politics, and his desire to keep the grassroots on side all clashed and for the first time Corbyn caved. It is common knowledge that privately he believes in Brexit, but the young wanted to stay, Westminster was in disarray and the grassroots just needed some direction. When everything collided Corbyn didn’t cope well. More importantly though he went against his own principles and proved for the first time that his conviction won’t hold up when his political career is on the line. In other words this was the first act of Corbyn’s undoing. As Brexit unfolds and the big constitutional issues of our era are dragged out into the spotlight we will see him in increasingly sticky situations. Eventually people are going to lose patience and they’re going to realize that he isn’t whiter than white.
So Corbyn may have won his leadership election, and it may have left some of us wondering why, but really his formula is very transparent and it will become clear in the coming years that it doesn’t always provide the right answers. Maybe people hate him now because he’s not living on the same planet as the rest of us, but very soon his own supporters may turn on him because they will see that he very much does. Jeremy is just like the rest of us: self-interested, career-focused, and struggling to answer the big questions of our era. As this glimmers through, his pedestal of power will begin to wobble.