Justin Thacker

What Corbyn can learn from Farage: influence without power

downloadThe best thing about Mhairi Black’s maiden speech in parliament was her reference to Tony Benn’s distinction between weathercocks and signposts: “weathercocks will spin in whatever direction the wind of public opinion may blow them”; signposts “stand true and tall and principled.” That is the dilemma that now faces Jeremy Corbyn. There will be many in the party clamouring for him to reach out to the whole of the British populace, and so tack centre in an attempt to make Labour once again electable. And if Corbyn’s goal is to achieve success in a general election then that of course is what he must do. He simply cannot win the country with the same platform that he won the party.

But becoming Prime Minister is not the only way for Corbyn to change British politics. He can also win by staying true to himself as long as the goal is shifted from gaining power to gaining influence. Increasingly, leadership literature is coming to recognise the power of leadership from below, or leadership without authority. Some have pointed to Princess Diana – and her influence over attitudes towards those with HIV / AIDS – as an example of this.

QuoteBut we can also think of a much more recent case in the form of Nigel Farage. Now let me clear, I abhor his politics. He stands for everything that is unholy and unjust, especially in respect of the poor from other countries. But what is clear is that if we ignore for a moment the very recent response to Syrian refugees, UKIP has undoubtedly changed British public opinion regarding immigration. It was only ten years ago that the Tories felt they had to apologise for their immigration policy by campaigning with the slogan: “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”. By the time of this year’s election, not only was there no sense of an apology, every mainstream party was imposing limits of some kind or another. Now of course, that change is partly due to the increased number of migrants over that period, but it is also due to the influence of Farage and UKIP, and their press spokespeople: the Daily Mail.

My point is that radical shifts in public opinion are possible even without real political power. And when such shifts take place, because Westminster is stuffed full of weathercocks rather than signposts, changes in policy and legislation inevitably follow. For this reason, Corbyn should accept the fact he will never win a general election and instead focus on changing public opinion: to protect and strengthen the welfare state, to reduce inequality, to champion the poor and disadvantaged, to adopt an ethical foreign policy. As Mhairi Black, following Tony Benn, said, only signposts are worth remembering. I hope Corbyn chooses that mantle, and so refrains from seeking power in order that he might truly achieve what matters: influence.

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12/09/2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment