I’m wondering what can Corbyn learn from Trump? I’ve been a bit disheartened of late with what appears to be Jeremy’s inability to ‘cut through’ the media coverage, and yesterday morning that once ardent supporter of Corbyn, Jonathan Freedland (spot the joke) was writing in the Guardian asking why Labour is continuing to back Jeremy. Well, why is Labour continuing to support Corbyn? Could it have anything at all to do with policy (as opposed to, e.g. exaggerated claims of anti-Semitism)? The problem with our pundits, who are paid by their weekly word count, is that they never seem to have the time to stop and think about the consequences of their scribblings. I am assuming here that they write in the everlasting hope that what they write will have consequences . . . In the end for most of us, it soon becomes clear who are the pundits that can be discounted, which is not to say one should be impervious to alternative views. But so far as Freedland goes, he might as well be the political editor of the Sun, for all the insight one might find. But, and here I’m coming to my point, Corbyn would probably do better to heed any (be there any) intelligent signals that come from the latter quarter rather than the former.
Trump’s approval ratings are and have been since day one of his presidency in the negative, and the phrase ‘they’ve not been this bad since so-and-so’ crops up often. Recently, we here in the U.K. have been hearing that Corbyn’s approval ratings are worse than Michael Foot’s. Foot’s ratings of course, were all down to him: wearing a donkey jacket (it wasn’t) at the Remembrance service (a personal disgrace); the Falklands war (a national Thatcher triumph which ironically he backed) and the rise of the SDP/Liberal Alliance (a split designed to consign Labour to history). None of these things were actually Foot’s fault, but once the media mill cranked up, it was too late. Contrast that with the way that Trump has, seemingly without effort, dominated the media in the U.S. His take no prisoners attitude has without doubt added to the severity of the partisan divide there, but what interests me are the vox pop interviews that emerge every so often with his supporters in run down former industrial areas—those which Trump pledged to revive but hasn’t. These people very often seem to believe he’s on their side. They often acknowledge that Trump, as a person, is a basket case but they still believe he’s on their side. Maybe it’s one basket case talking the language of another, the old ‘who you would rather talk to in the bar’ syndrome (notably discussed in the context of Bush and Gore). Would you rather spend your time with a dry, academic type or somebody with a jokey, all things to all people personality? It seems the answer to that question is overwhelmingly the joker.
Anyway, in terms of political communication Trump is a master, even if his message is utterly flawed. Corbyn needs to learn what works and what doesn’t, and I don’t think that that entails him losing any of his authenticity. But it does mean being a bit less reasonable, more strident and where needs be, offensive. To our opponents.
On this subject, how is it that on Friday, the BBC could find it newsworthy merely that Johnson said Corbyn 'should man up' and go for an election? That, and only that was the story. But Johnson has learnt the Trump use of simple language. Jeremy is still rather too cerebral for today's bite-sized media.
As I said, Trump's ratings have been negative throughout his presidency - maybe that's down to both his personality and his politics. But I wouldn't let those two obvious disadvantages blind us to the effectiveness of his media strategy. He cuts through the commentariat. I wish Labour would find a way a way of doing the same.