Trust and integrity have returned to British politics
As election night progressed, I started noticing that the general sentiment was huge surprise at the massive Labour gains, starting with the possibility of a hung parliament indicated by the exit polls to the final tally and the sweeping majorities commanded by Jeremy Corbyn’s party up and down the country.
Yet I also noticed that deep down I was not surprised and I wonder if there are many of us who knew this tectonic shift was coming, even if we didn’t dare to believe in it until it happened.
Having thought that thought, I started to wonder why I had it and I came to the conclusion that I must have responded to what so many UK voters also recognised: the qualities of courage and integrity that characterise not just Jeremy Corbyn but also many of his MPs. This is a profound change in modern politics. From Angela Merkel to Caroline Lucas, to Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders, what people are starting to recognise and dare to believe in is that we have indeed got some political leaders who operate with unflinching courage and confidence, coupled with deep integrity – the quality of standing on principle and doing what you said you will do, or according to the dictionary, incorruptibility, soundness, completeness.
In my lifetime, I experience this as a new phenomenon, although a respected union and community organisers friend of mine who died at the turn of the century used to say that these qualities were what mattered in his youth (around the Second World War), and that he saw them gradually replaced by the advanced capitalist values of greed and making a quick buck.
Perhaps that is what last night’s election revealed so starkly, a clash of values between the two main contenders. Jeremy Corbyn, in spite of the enormous and unprecedented quantity and quality of the attacks that were rained down on him and his closest allies (for example Diane Abbott), revealed himself as what those of us who have known him for years always saw in him: a basically decent guy who helps those around him, makes cups of tea for his staff, has a deeply held belief in the sanctity of human life and the irrationality of war and thinks that we should invest in people’s well-being instead of banks and high finance. He doesn’t seem to have changed since all those years ago when he became chair of Stop the War, our much-maligned yet crucially important pressure group for peace. He seems to know what is right and he expresses it year after year, campaign after campaign in spite of huge internal and external opposition. He has provided decades of quiet and not so quiet leadership and we have finally started responding to the hope that it is possible to elect someone who is actually honest and trustworthy.
Contrast with that the leaders of the Conservative Party: and here I will not single out Theresa May as she is only the epitome of a style of government that we have seen raising its ugly head again and again, from Cameron’s leaving us in the lurch of a half-baked Brexit, to the unprecedented backstabbing that followed his departure and now the obvious fast and furious U-turns that characterise so many Tories. Not forgetting UKIP of course who seem to have self-destructed quite efficiently. We can see this over the pond where more and more lies, murkiness, crass sexism (think of the Russian hookers, dismissed as nothing but a footnote in the big boys’ Russia affair) keep coming to light in the Trump administration. Such lack of strength and steadiness – because that is what it amounts to – is not illogical. It is not easily possible, or perhaps not at all, to govern in the name of a capitalist system that values above all making a profit at all cost, where the quick buck is king and the destruction of everything in the path of greed (including the environment and people’s reputations) is the name of the game.
We are truly at a crossroads in politics. We have lived for so long under the cloud of dishonesty and back-stabbing or even just smaller compromises with our own principles that we have started to believe it is not possible to get ahead otherwise. Yet time and time again we are reminded that there is another way, that politics can be an honourable profession, that we were wrong in doubting that truth will out, and that we can and must reach for a new or perhaps old and abandoned way of doing things, infused with humility, inclusion, courage and integrity. The surprise that we confess to is that these amount to strength and victory.
I contend that this is the essence of true political leadership. Perhaps the lesson from last night and the past few Corbyn years is that when we notice a politician operating in this new way, we should lay aside our doubts and trust their vision and higher wisdom. It does make an honest politician’s life easier if they don’t not have to constantly watch their back in case their own followers are undermining them because they suffer from an understandable lack of belief in the power of correct policy to win the day.
Incidentally, this is another thing that Labour could learn from the Greens – we don’t go around attacking or ousting our leaders, even if and when they don’t perform as well as we wish. And we do live by our values of cooperation and trust in others. It doesn’t always lead to electoral success, but it does lead to many others seeing that we have sound policies, to increased respect and ultimately to the greater good.