A number of thoughts sprang to mind when I saw the hunched figure of Jeremy Corbyn grasping at a newspaper on a grimy train floor, asking me to believe that his press team and his sarcastic tone couldn’t have cleared a whole carriage for him in a number of minutes, posing as a man of the people once again. Train floors cannot be good for your clothes, or your public image it seems, but luckily Jeremy’s suit was pretty raggedy before he squatted down and raised an eyebrow declaring that nationalization of the trains was the only way to save him from this awful fate. What was this meant to induce in me? Pity? Laughter? Anger? I have strong suspicions that his press officer is in fact Owen Jones in disguise, possibly working with Theresa May on this occasion; there is simply no other explanation as to why he would conduct such a melodrama on a train that wasn’t even full. Newspaper editors everywhere must have been teary with delight, and predictably in the days that followed Jeremy was brutalized by the press. So how is it that Boris Johnson can get stuck half way down a zip line with a feeble little Union Jack quivering in the wind clenched by his side and have his podgy dangling figure celebrated as a jovial addition to our fine nation, and yet Corbyn can’t even undertake the minor rebellion of a scruffy suit without disdainful looks in the Commons? The answer, to me, seems simple. Corbyn takes himself just a bit too seriously.
In the age of social media, no politician, or at least very few, can claim to have immunity from that most British tradition of wanting to laugh at the expense of the establishment. Boris himself experienced this after the Brexit vote when he was depicted as running away from his responsibilities by refusing to take up the role of Prime Minister in the aftermath of Cameron’s resignation. We want to catch them out and proudly declare that we knew them to be frauds all along! Corbyn feels this same sentiment on a magnified and often very humiliating level simply because his ‘weakness’ is the seriousness with which he takes his image. He wants to be the committed socialist who suffers with the people and fights with the people. He cannot bear the thought that he would live up to any less than this left-wing caricature of what a politician should be. He donated his family fortune to charity and lives a far more modest and genuine life than many of those who preach the same values. Corbyn may be someone that is hated by many, even his own party, but I think to accuse him of hypocrisy, as the press has on this occasion, is to misread what it is that he is struggling with.
When you take an activist, give them a suit, a title, and a press team you don’t necessarily make a successful leader. Corbyn refuses to buy into mainstream publicity tactics: he won’t do interviews on anyone’s terms but his own, he won’t take the cheesy photo opportunities, he won’t banter with the opposition benches in Prime Ministers Questions. The sphere in which he wants to conduct politics is so far out from the one in which politics actually takes place that his ideas and activities become disconnected from the message he wants to send. He tries to be a rebel, to show Britain that there is a new type of politics, but this makes him so inept at publicity stunts that he shouldn’t even go near them. Corbyn may be many things, and he may look very funny in an oversized blazer pressed up against the gum furnished wall of a Virgin train carriage, but this blunder is not what it seems. He has shown himself to be terrible at self-promotion, but he sure is committed to his cause.