It’s a peculiarity of politics that what you’re not is often as valid a foundation for a campaign as what you are.
Pepsi is more than NOT Coke, Burger King is more than NOT McDonald’s, and Apple is definitely more than NOT Microsoft. But, for Jeremy Corbyn, his main characteristic in the eyes of the public is that he’s NOT the other candidates in the Labour leadership field.
As ballots were sent out to members and registered supporters on 14 August, the certified Saviour of The Left (or Worrying Bearded Menace, if you prefer) was the nailed-on front runner, despite a chorus of dissenting voices within the party.
A succession of Labour’s heavy-hitters have warned variously about party splits, returning to the politics of the 1980s, or becoming unelectable for a generation. None of this has so much as dented Corbyn’s progress. If anything, he has gained momentum – so much so that bookie Paddy Power is already paying out on a Corbyn win: “Cor blimey”, they said of the one-time 100-1 shot.
Corbyn’s campaign is predicated on the view that the Labour party is lost and must distance itself in the public’s eyes from the Labour of the past twenty years if it is to regain their trust. They offer Corbyn as the man to do that.
In keeping with the laws of unintended consequences, it seems all these ‘negative endorsements’ could actually help the Corbyn camp paint that picture.
In July, Tony Blair made his first major intervention in the leadership campaign when he urged those party members whose heart was with the left wing to “get a transplant”. When asked during the same event who he would like to see as leader, he refused to endorse a candidate saying he didn’t feel a show of support from him would be useful to their cause.
Possibly a sensible move from a man who, rightly or wrongly, has come to symbolise the failings of Labour’s time in government – but in intervening so adamantly against the left of the party, the weight of his legacy, so carefully kept from burdening a preferred candidate, fell instead behind Corbyn in confirmation of his ‘otherness’.
The same is true of Gordon Brown – who has now taken the active step of endorsing Yvette Cooper’s candidacy – and party grandee Peter Mandelson, who is rumoured to have visited all three of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall to argue that at least one should quit the race and throw their weight behind another to counter Corbyn.
The protestations of Blair, Brown, and Mandelson, as well as Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, have probably done more to influence the mind of Labour’s electorate than any positive endorsement of Corbyn and his policies could have hoped. Meanwhile, talk of purges and witch-hunts as the party approves and denies supporter registrations only solidifies the feeling of an uprising, a groundswell, and a rebel surge populated by Corbynites.
Outside of the party, the Telegraph’s gleefully nefarious support – encouraging its readers to sign up, vote Corbyn and bury Labour – and the apocalyptic predictions of the Daily Mail are a louder rallying call than Unite, Unison, Owen Jones and even Russell Brand could hope to achieve.
It’s probably too late to change tack now. But, with the benefit of hindsight, the Labour Party establishment may been better served by articulating a grander vision; attacking the Government and the enemy without, rather than Corbyn and the perceived enemy within.
Featured image: some rights reserved by Garry Knight.