The Corbyn Paradox: Why So Many Agree With Him But Won’t Vote For Him

This article was published in the Morning Star on 25th May 2017. See here.

The frequent delegitimisation of Jeremy Corbyn by both conservative and liberal elites who stand opposed to his radically democratic politics has left many voters believing that he is bad news, despite agreeing with many of his views.

They feared this would happen – that is, elites across government, the media, the judiciary, the civil service, the nobility and most importantly the financial and corporate sectors. They feared that a radically democratic Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn would form a manifesto that one) the public would overwhelmingly support, and two) would run counter to many of their own interests.

Thus is the history of the left; the policies appeal to the masses, but rarely to elites whose interests are comfortably served under the status quo. That is why from the very moment Corbyn and his politics gathered popular attention, the state-corporate nexus, dominated by many of those comfortable elites, instinctively set about ridiculing and delegitimising him to the point whereby that irrational and paradoxical cognitive phenomenon occurs in which voters declare: ‘I agree with him, but I can’t vote for him’. What a curious contradiction this is. How might we comprehend it?

Well, it’s a simple truth of political debate that if you can’t beat your opponent on policy, then you avoid discussing it and focus your attention on one) assassinating their character; two) promoting empty but powerful slogans that appeal to basic instinct and emotion rather than rationale and intellect; and three) anything else that will distract from policy. It’s an infantile approach that insults public intelligence, but it dominates modern political culture.

The incessant distortions, misrepresentations and oversimplifications of Corbyn’s views; the copious declarations of him being ‘unelectable’ and lacking credibility; the emphatic focus on his personality, his mannerisms and clothing; and the constant claims that he lacks good leadership qualities are all part of this approach and why many people now say they won’t vote for him.

This is not to say that there’s been some grand conspiracy or collaboration among elites to delegitimise Corbyn (although many powerful interests, particularly from within his own party and across the Murdoch and liberal media, have certainly tried with calculation to undermine his public image), rather, it is to say that when elites and opinion leaders of all stripes continuously proclaim that they think Corbyn is shit, then people will unsurprisingly start to think that Corbyn is shit.

It’s not rocket science, although there is a science that helps explain it; namely, the science of advertising and marketing. Take for example the term ‘effective frequency’, which is used in advertising to refer to the amount of times a consumer should be exposed to a message before it has the desired effect. Huge efforts are made by advertisers to manipulate the frequency of consumer’s exposure to messages, images and tag lines. If you’re familiar with the phrases ‘Just Do It’, ‘Breakfast of Champions’ or ‘Got Milk?’ then you are a prime example of the effectiveness of such efforts.

Indeed, repetition is an incredibly powerful tool, something that savvy political interests are very aware of. It’s the reason for political campaign slogans like ‘Labour Isn’t Working’, ‘One Nation’, ‘the Big Society’ and ‘Yes We Can’. It’s also the reason why salesman Donald Trump (who’s no stranger to the power of advertising) tediously repeated the phrase ‘Make America Great Again’, and it’s the reason Theresa May repeatedly says she can offer us a ‘Strong and Stable’ leadership.

The logic behind it is simple: the more a message is repeated, the more it will be believed. This might sound absurd, but there’s much research demonstrating that it’s true. The reason, so it is believed, is that frequency builds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust. It’s why companies pay advertisers, marketers and PR firms dizzying amounts of money each year to formulate campaigns that promote their messages and products. ‘Trend-setters’, ‘thought leaders’, ‘role models’, celebrities and all types of influential people are employed to front such campaigns to enhance their credibility. The fact that companies persist with such campaigns – and continue to pay vast sums for them – is evidence enough that their efforts pay off.

So when elite politicians, media personnel and thought leaders (especially those regarded by the public as ‘experienced’, ‘experts’ or ‘educated’) continuously repeat something to us, it has a very good chance of being believed, regardless of the actual truth. This goes a long way to explaining why Trump was able to win an election with the vocabulary of a child, why Brexit campaigners were so successful with slogans like ‘Take Back Control’, and why so many voters now simultaneously support the Labour Party’s manifesto but refuse to vote for Corbyn.

The repetitious persecution and negativity afforded him by elites who oppose the kind of radical democratic politics he stands for has left swathes of the population thinking exactly what they want them to think: that he’s ‘unelectable’, he lacks credibility and leadership qualities. Of course, none of this is true; these are false constructs that serve only the interests of his opponents who have their own self-serving ideas about what a candidate for prime minister should look, act, sound and think like.

The obvious reality is that if all those elites who oppose what Corbyn stands for (particularly those from within his own party and the liberal media) had afforded him a little more reverence and positivity from the outset, then current public attitudes towards him would be quite different, and the prospected outcome of this election quite the opposite.


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