Church of England

Corbyn and charisma: where there is no vision, the people get no credit


There’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn has a curiously charismatic air about him. If he had not scraped into the Labour leadership contest, would we have seen those tens of thousands paying £3 to cast their votes? Even after a conference speech which hardly set the world on fire, another 2,000 people joined the party within 24 hours.

This is a man who dresses down, borrows a tie when needed and is making every effort to turn the traditional form of adversarial politics on its head. Those who stand on the left wing of politics have found a new saviour, but even for the rest of us his unorthodox let’s-all-try-to-be-nice-and-get-along approach is a refreshing change if you are willing to suspend interrogation of his political philosophy and planned policies. He certainly pleased a good number of Christians last weekend when he chose to turn up at the church service to start the Labour conference, and then backing the campaign against changing Sunday trading laws.

We love an underdog with principles and a heart, and Corbyn fits the mould nicely. But when push comes to shove, we also want leaders who can win both hearts and minds. We want leaders who can sell us a vision and be trusted to make big decisions and follow them through, much more than we desire righteous idealists and activists who will speak up for a series of random, if just, causes.

Jeremy Corbyn’s honeymoon period is not over yet, but that will come to an end as they all do, and then we’ll see whether he has enough substance beneath the skin. The Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser, who supported Corbyn during his campaign, voiced his concerns in the Guardian yesterday that the Labour leader is missing what he describes as “the powerful poetry of vision”. If there is a promised land for Labour supporters, we’re not much clearer yet as to what it might look like than we were with Ed Miliband. “There is something missing with his beige-party-meets-socialism”, as Fraser puts it. Is Corbyn’s apparent charismatic allure more of a reaction against the establishment? Is that why so many want to be (or are being) caught in his gravitational pull?

Real charisma does more than just excite those who are already in agreement: it persuades and wins the unconverted. Fraser compares Corbyn to Martin Luther King and John Wesley, and finds him lacking. Perhaps that is unfair. These great men who changed the course of history were not constrained by party politics. They found a cause that they wholeheartedly gave themselves to and pursued it with every fibre of their beings. No matter how hard he tries, Corbyn (or Cameron, Osborne and Farron) will never match that passion or draw in crowds of tens of thousands. Politicians do their demotic politicking, but King and Wesley were unshackled; free to speak their minds without compromise, and then build a movement united by a single goal. What’s more, they had faith behind them, or within them. When your role model is Jesus and you have his life and words to inspire you, it is possible to believe that you can achieve anything: God is on your side.

Take the example of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Seeing the injustices in the system and the gross exploitation of the most vulnerable in society, he set out to take on the banks and compete Wonga and other payday lenders out of business. For one individual to attempt (or even suggest0 this seemed to be bordering on madness. But by persuading those who know about finance, and then raising of an army of ordinary Christians to administrate an alternative network, not only have the payday lenders been severely restricted in their activities through new legislation, but a new wave of credit unions are being developed.

Preaching at a commissioning service this week for 300 new ‘Credit Champions’ – volunteers trained to help churches take action to tackle issues to do with credit, debt and money in their local area – the Archbishop said:

It really is moving to see the ways the church has responded to the issues of the mastery of finance over so many human lives and its tyranny over so many human lives. It’s an extraordinary moment that the church rose to the challenge over the last many years, about six or seven years since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008/09 and has responded.

And here we are for the commissioning of the Credit Champions. It’s humbling to see that because it is a movement of God’s Spirit among us.

Those of you who are shortly going to be commissioned as Church Credit Champions have heard God’s call, as the whole church has in recent years, to be a church of the poor for the poor; to seek justice and the common good for all in our society.

Welby, like Corbyn, is a fairly unassuming individual, but then Jesus wasn’t a stunner either, at least according to Isaiah: ‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ But get behind the face or beneath the skin and the Corbyn-Welby differences become evident. Neither speaks with the rousing grandeur of Martin Luther King, and neither bursts with the extrovert enthusiasm of an entertainer. But while Jeremy Corbyn has still to prove that he can win over more than a subset of his own party, Justin Welby has already refreshed the parts that other bishops could not reach.

Corbyn’s vision – if you can call it that – is piecemeal and lacking in coherence: he wants to make the world a better place, but he’ll find that taxing the rich and refusing to use the nuclear button won’t be enough. Welby’s vision – and you can call it that – is for peace and reconciliation based on practical ideas with applied and very personal effort. It’s more than just talking about hopes and dreams: he is making things happen. This is a form of charisma derived from the depths of experience and knowledge, with a foundation of unshakable faith. Let us not forget that in the Greek ‘charisma’ (χαρίσμα) denotes good gifts that flow from God’s love to humans. Real charisma is full of God’s Spirit. It is a divine gift that is given both to lead and serve. When Welby speaks, his words reach deeper than appeals to individual aspiration: he speaks with authority on behalf of a movement that is willing to invest rather more than £3 each to participate and transform society.

Corbynmania will, in time, run its course. And then, most likely, there will be plenty of people upset and frustrated that the man they pinned their hopes on has let them down because he failed to give them exactly what they wanted. Charisma without a spark of divinity becomes little more than box-office charm. It can wow millions, but will rarely change the world – at least not always for the better.

Wisdom, vision and the fear of the Lord are now rarely to be found in politics, perhaps because they’re rarely to be found in politicians. What’s the point of charisma if you’re not going to acknowledge the extraordinary mercy and grace of the charismata?

  • CliveM

    “There’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn has a curiously charismatic air about him.”

    Well if there is, it completely passes me by.

    • dannybhoy

      That’s because it’s a curious kind of charisma Clive. What is different about him is that he’s a throwback to yesteryear, the Labour Party of the ’70’s, winters of discontent, demarcation disputes, beer and sandwiches, workers of the world unite against the greedy Capitalists.
      And so on, and so on.
      He’s a novelty, and we’re all bemused by him.
      Plus it gives the MSM something else to write about, to analyse, and create irresponsible mayhem and mischief..

      • CliveM

        It’s too curious for me!

        I suppose to a certain generation he’s a novelty. For me it’s like how some people whitter on how the don’t make cars with character anymore and grieve the loss. The cars may have been unreliable rust buckets, with dodgy breaks and a tendency to kill all passengers in the most minor of shunts, but people still get nostalgic.

        I prefer someone who has learnt lessons from the past and a car that’s safe to drive.

        • dannybhoy

          A real risk taker, ain’t cha!
          Those cars had character and charisma. They were cheap, they could be relied on…. to rust and break down.
          And best of all, they were British!

          • CliveM

            There are cars that are maybe worth getting nostalgic about, the e-type was beautiful.

            Corbyn is more the Hillman Imp, with all that implies.

          • Pubcrawler

            OK, nostalgia freaks:

            Austin Ambassador Y Reg

            (I know, not strictly 70s, but little more than the 70s Princess with a makeover.)

          • CliveM

            Ah the good old fashioned BL rust bucket.

            I was thinking, perhaps Corbyn could become a living exhibit at a Beamish in the NE?

            Should fit in.

          • dannybhoy

            Oh I love John Shuttleworth! The first time I heard…
            “Have you seen my wife?” I was hooked.

            I remember when the Austin Ambassador first came out. I thought it was really smart. It’s just such a shame that the mechanicals were so poor. The Maxi was a pretty good car too.. Then there was the Maestro which was quite advanced for the time.
            The tragedy of the British car industry was that workers and management used it as the stage for “Class Wars”.

      • alternative_perspective

        “Life on Mars” was particularly popular.

        • dannybhoy

          Life on Mars was about the seventies, not in the seventies..

          I never watched it, but I understand it was quite good.

          • CliveM

            He may have meant the David Bowie song!

          • dannybhoy

            What would I do without your tactful diplomacy Clive?
            I really appreciate the way you do that.. :0)

          • CliveM

            Had to learn it when I got married!

          • dannybhoy

            Well, you learned it well…

    • James Bolivar DiGriz

      When so many politicians seem to have no principles whatsoever* then someone who does, appears (but may not actually be) to be more reliable and thus attractive. So in that manner charismatic.

      As dannybhoy points out, the principles that Corbyn sticks to are ones that have been repeatedly shown not only not to work but to achieve the opposite of what was intended. Hence those who are supporting Corbyn are disproportionately young and don’t remember the problems that Corbyn’s policies caused in the past.

      *Perhaps an extreme, but is there any issue on which Andy Burnham has not supported both sides at different times?

      • CliveM

        Well I don’t doubt his consistency and I agree regards Andy Burnham. A man of no consistency.

        I will admit, Tony Blairs appeal also passed me by. Clearly the lack is with me.

        • James60498 .

          And me

        • James Bolivar DiGriz

          Clive, I don’t think that Corbyn & Blair not appealing to you demonstrates any significant lack.

          A lack of the naivete (foolishness?) that 100% of politicians are 100% pure & decent 100% of the time, maybe. But I don’t think that lack is too big an omission and it some might call it being as wise as a serpent.

          • CliveM

            It’s amazing how many people I know who thought the sun shone out of his arse are denying him three times.

          • a serpent. Now you’re talking.

  • Sam


    “There’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn has a curiously charismatic air about him. ”

    Coincidentally , I had a dream last night on which Kaiser Wilhelm II spoke to me and made I Governor General of the Cameron…..

    • Albert

      That’s odd. I had the very same dream, only he also made me leader of the Labour Party and everyone lived happily ever after.

  • Dreadnaught

    The Maharishi Yogi used to say stuff about a world living meekly in peaceful cloud cuckoo land, very much as expounded by Corbyn – ‘which is nice’ The Beatles soon found out, that as a political philosophy or realistic concept, it was as much use in the modern world as a concrete parachute. rip Lennon and Harrison.

    • Anton

      Lennon twigged the Maharishi very quickly – he’s the subject of Lennon’s Beatles song Sexy Sadie. Harrison was the one who fell hook line and sinker.

      • Dreadnaught

        Agreed. My point was that they both were defenseless when they were attacked.

  • Pubcrawler

    “Corbynmania will, in time, run its course”

    As Guido reports, accoring to Ipsos/Mori and YouGov polls he has the worst rating of an opposition leader ever.

    What will it be like when ‘Corbynmania has run its course’?

    Honeymoon period? Nah; his flush was busted before it began.

    • CliveM

      What I don’t get is he is so clearly out of his depth, even if his policies were less insane, you wouldn’t (couldn’t) be impressed by him.

      I know the young are more idealistic, but surely even idealism can only make you blind to so much?

      • Pubcrawler

        Well, as the great HL Mencken put it:

        “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

  • carl jacobs

    Corbyn is a manifestation of the existential crisis that has afflicted the economic Left since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been routed by the power of international capital on every front, and it wonders what relevance it might still possess. The Greek crisis was to the Left a hopeful bellwether that the crisis of international capitalism had returned, and might re-ooen the door to Socialist solutions. Corbyn is likewise a symbol of the hope of Socialism resurgent. To a certain section of the population, his charisma matters not at all. He is the symbol of Socialism returned to political relevance. He embodies the restoration of the Faith.

    • CliveM

      He also appeals to those who believe in a free lunch, paid for by the taxpayer and with the added promise that they will never have to reciprocate.

  • Inspector General

    “He’s not the messiah. He’s just a very naughty boy” as the famous saying goes.

    Oh how it must hurt you Fraser, how it does hurt, indeed…

    {Howls of mirth…}

    Recovering composure, the Inspector will say this regarding the man’s conduct thus far. The Labour party seems to have arranged for itself two deputy leaders. Corbyn and that other fellow whose name escapes the Inspector and he really can’t be bothered to go looking for it. The top job to remain fallow for now. The direction of the party to change continually, even perhaps by the day. Wonderful stuff, what!

    • CliveM

      A ship that not only is rudderless but also captain less.

      A truly bizarre method of organisational suicide.

      • alternative_perspective

        Sounds like the moral state of HMS Britain.

        • Pubcrawler

          Ripe for the latter-day Barbary pirates to board and take control.

    • Pubcrawler

      You mean Tom Watson, self-appointed Murdoch-fynder General?

      • Inspector General

        Yes, that’s the blighter. From out of the chaos, came nothing…

  • Pubcrawler

    Seems Lord Sugar’s not a fan…. (H/T: Guido)

  • len

    How many more men will promise solutions to problems which they cannot control?.

    Psalm 146 1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD.

  • Corbymania proves 2 things.

    1) Marxism will never die as long as there are (A) people who blame their failure on other people’s success, and (B) politicians greedy for power who are sufficiently unscrupulous and/or deluded to exploit that envy and hate.

    2) OMOV (one moron, one vote) is a really cr*p way of choosing governments.

    • Dreadnaught

      one moron, one vote is a really cr*p way of choosing governments.

      How do you feel about denying yourself a vote? – I’m talking governments here. Care to suggest an alternative?

      • Sure.

        I have suggested here in the past that the vote should be conditional, in order to limit idiocracy. As a minimum, the voting age should be raised to 21 (I’d prefer 30) and be limited to income tax payers, with convicted criminals deprived of the vote for life unless they repay society adequately. The details could be negotiated but the principle is about acquired wisdom, demonstrated responsibility and moral hazard.

        Spendthrift socialist governments get voted in on the ‘tax the rich’ vote. Thieves and liars like G****n B***n (excuse the language) con people into believing there in an endless fountain of free money to which they are entitled by virtue of their birth. People who vote for governments that bribe them with other people’s money have wrecked this country.

        The right to vote should have to be earned and be able to be lost. It is OUTRAGEOUS that (for example) a man who stays faithful to one wife and pays £20,000 income tax a year has no more say in choosing a government than an unemployable oaf who has begotten 3 children by 3 women for the welfare state to bring up (badly). A soldier should have more say than a rioter, et cetera.

        I wouldn’t deny myself a vote because I have earned it, however arrogant that sounds. The man who has rendered himself unemployable and a drain on others by alcohol or drug abuse does not deserve the right to vote for a government that will increase his benefits at the expense of responsible people who have paid their dues.

        • Dreadnaught

          Can’t say I wholly disagree with your sentiments if not the remedy, but things have changed a bit since the 19th C and you really can’t wish to return to those pre-Reform Acts days – can you?

        • Phil R

          Well said..

        • Manfarang

          Why bother? Just have a military coup.

  • Inspector General

    Can Labour place its mess on Miliband?. He couldn’t wait to walk away from it all on learning he’d lost. Very much toys out the pram stuff from a thwarted child. He didn’t care about the Labour party, just his own ambitions, it seems. And in the vacuum he left…

    • CliveM

      I do wonder if he now feels it was worth stabbing his brother in the back?

      • Pubcrawler

        I bet that mess of pottage ain’t tasting so good now.

        • CliveM

          Still he has done a service to the country and destroyed Labour for a generation. A Knighthood perhaps?

      • dannybhoy

        I think it was that fact driving him on to win the election at any cost…

    • Very like that shiny bonce ‘Tory Boy’ William Haig. Another man who put self before party, party before country.

  • Manfarang

    The Church is increasingly seen as irrelevant, maybe Mr. Corbyn will be too.