Professional observers have reacted with a mixture of anger, horror, scorn, incredulity and manic laughter to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. His cack-handed reshuffle is not how one is supposed to go about being Leader of the Opposition, and confirms their belief that he has no chance of becoming Prime Minister.
But Corbyn’s unprofessionalism is for his supporters one of his virtues. To them it confirms that he has a mind above appearances. They rejoice that he is so devastatingly uninterested in the monied smartness and managerial glibness which PR types regard as essential attributes in a leading politician.
In the house of a Corbyn supporter, the kitchen has not been modernised, the food is of uneven quality and most likely washed down with herbal tea, every surface is cluttered with piles of books, papers and pamphlets, some of which would not be out of place in a museum of socialism, and the clothes look as if they have been seized at random from a charity shop, or else knitted by well-meaning volunteers without any sense of colour.
To waste time and money on fripperies would be inexcusable, when a dozen different campaigns are waiting to be run from what space can be found on the kitchen table. The point of life is not to hold dinner parties, but to change the world: a process which starts with changing the Labour Party.
Under Tony Blair, this kind of socialist felt spurned, humiliated and excluded. Under Corbyn, for the first time since 1983, everything seems possible. And who will say a preference for Corbyn’s style of politics over Blair’s is entirely unwarranted?
Some years ago, Frank Field assembled and edited a collection, Attlee’s Great Contemporaries, of articles written by Clement Attlee about other politicians. In an introductory essay, Field himself wrote:
“Attlee held it as a great truth that the revolution he espoused would never change the character of the British nation unless politicians led by living that kind of life themselves. The personal life of politicians was, for Attlee, the outward visible sign to voters of the deepest changes politicians wished to see operating in the wider society. The failure of the political classes to offer an Attlee-style leadership has much impoverished public life in Britain, to the regret of many voters who are thereby denied a real choice at the ballot box.”
Now Corbyn is no Attlee, and Corbyn’s acolytes do not bear comparison with the formidable team of ministers assembled and orchestrated by Attlee in the Labour Governments of 1945-51.
But for Corbyn’s supporters, what matters a thousand times more is that he is no Blair. Their leader’s contempt for riches, and for politicians who treat the Labour Party as a way to get rich, enchants them. Corbyn is a kind of anti-Blair, determined always to speak up for the poor (or for his idea of the poor) against the rich: a position which fortifies the already powerful tendency of him and his supporters to bask in an invincible self-righteousness.
So it is going to be quite difficult to get rid of Corbyn. For the more he diverges from the conventional way of doing things, the more wonderful he will seem to his followers.