What do Jeremy Corbyn’s critics mean by ‘good leadership’?

Green Party deputy leader: being 'good and decent' should count for something


As in many areas of policy and process, the Green Party is ahead of its time. (That’s one way of being progressive.)

Take this statement about leadership from us as it pertains to good governance:

‘We seek a society in which people are empowered and involved in making the decisions which affect them.

We advocate participatory and democratic politics. Leadership should always be accountable, consensus-driven and moral.

We reject the hierarchical structure of leaders and followers.’

The complaints of Corbyn’s erstwhile front bench colleagues have become a cacophony over the last few days. A vote of no confidence was precipitated and won by them. Corbyn has never looked more vulnerable.

Far from seeking to capitalise on Labour’s grief for party political gain, I simply wish to understand it and what it says about leadership in politics.

Given Corbyn’s refrain that he was elected overwhelmingly by grassroots members to pursue a new and different way of doing politics, we should ask whether his leadership style needs to be given a better chance.

The scenes of people gathering to greet and support the Labour leader outside parliament this week were quite extraordinary.

Far from finding himself undermined in their eyes, Corbyn is seen as representing their cause more vividly, as the underdog versus the establishment. Here is a leader they can identify with – for them, it is his detractors who have lost touch.

What does this tell us about what his detractors say makes a good leader? Should Corbyn have made others believe in something he didn’t, or at least not to the extent required, by confecting emotion? How does that sit with honesty and authenticity in politics, characteristics in all too short supply?

The biggest clue comes from Hilary Benn’s put-down of Corbyn:

‘He’s a good and decent man, but he’s not a leader. That’s the problem.’

Benn begs the question about what counts as a leader, or at least a good one.

It sounds like he is claiming Corbyn’s stated attributes count for nothing towards leadership. Yet surely he is wrong about that.

To be a good leader one should surely be at least ‘good and decent’; call it a necessary if not sufficient condition.

Leaders pursuing wrongful causes are ten-a-penny. They are bad leaders in the most important sense, in their failure of moral judgement.

While Corbyn’s own colleagues plot against him, they might reflect on the alternative: empower thyself – not to have control over Corbyn, but rather to direct oneself to post-Brexit emergency planning.

This might require rather more leadership than they are used to showing, and it sounds to me, for all their protest, that they would not make for good leaders.

Shahrar Ali is deputy leader of the Green Party

See: Jeremy Corbyn ‘will not betray’ members by resigning

See: Is Corbyn’s mandate as robust as he thinks it is? 

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