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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20 Responses to “What do Jeremy Corbyn’s critics mean by ‘good leadership’?”

  1. Martin Read

    Many of Corbyn’s detractors have fought harder against their own leader than ever they have against the Tories. The Blairites helped ease in the PFIs that are crippling the NHS, have done almost nothing to challenge the growing disparity between the wealthiest and poorest in the UK, and would quietly have welcomed the implementation of TTIP had it not been ‘outed’ by better socialists than themselves. If they depose Corbyn many members will not be quick to forget or forgive their betrayal and self-serving ways.

  2. A Khan

    For Corbyn’s rebels, a good leader is the one

    who is elected by a fraction of the members (obviously Corbyn was elected by 60%)
    whose party lose all elections after becoming a leader
    who makes noise but finally toes the govt’s line
    whose main aim is not any principles but getting into and staying in power
    who does not hesitate bombing or voting to bomb distant nations
    who care more about he MP’s than the people who elect the MP’s
    who resigns when the MP’s ask him to resign.

  3. Fred

    Let’s face it, the only people who really support Jeremy Corbyn have dreadlocks, tie-dyed T-shirts, dogs on a length of rope and placards. The only person in the UK who doesn’t understand this: Jeremy Corbyn.

  4. Carey

    Thanks for this Sharah Ali. I agree!

  5. Vicky Seddon

    Mr Corbyn hasn’t been able to hold the party together – a priority for a leader. He said he welcomed and wanted to work with people of different perspectives in the party and to welcome their contributions. He hasn’t done that.

    He and his office have not been helpful to the Remain Campaign

    Yes he is a decent man and a kind man. But that does not mean he has the ability to lead. Or to be perceived as a possible prime minister. He does the party no favours by not resigning so that someone with the appropriate skills can try. This is very divisive

  6. Martyn Wood-Bevan

    Excellent article! Absolutely right that most Labour MP’s have shown no leadership “Post-Brexit” and have been negative from the off. I really appreciate Corbyn at PMQ’s and have listened to many of his speeches – best ones of the Remain campaign by far. No wonder so many party members are absolutely furious. Tony Blair was quite charismatic, but also dishonest, controlling, biased and self-centred. If that’s what is known as good leadership I don’t want any part of it. No wonder the PLP are struggling to find anyone to stand against Corbyn – bunch of nasty , disloyal whingers.

  7. Shaun Cohen

    So much for democracy in the Labour Party, never mind the membership, our self serving MPs, who would rather worry about their own careers in Parliament, rathyer than accept the democratic wishes of Labour members and supporters. Look at the facts, how has Labour fared under Jeremy Corbyn. It didinot matter what Jeremy Corbyn did or not do in the referendum campaign, the fact is the majority of Labour voters saw the vote as an opportunity to make a stand against immigration. Look at history whenver the fra right has made gains, where has it come from?

  8. Miriam Yagud

    Absolutely Right. Leadership is doing what you say you will do.
    No amount of charismatic flattery will conceal a liar in the end.
    Let’s judge them by what they do not what they say

  9. Linda Peterson

    The divisions within the Labour party have been promoted relentlessly by the PLP ever since losing the last election. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader was a wonderful opportunity for the party to unite with fresh vigour to work together in opposition. The opposite happened, driven yet again by the PLP who for some reason could not accept Mr Corbyn as their elected leader. Shouting “but he’s not a leader” over and over again very loudly at every opportunity, will eventually become self-fulfilling prophecy.
    I have no doubt they will eventually get rid of this good man, even if they have to kill him. There are clearly forces at work behind the scenes who are not showing either their faces or their intentions. However, I very much doubt that the Labour members and supporters will forgive the Party for sentencing them to yet more years of Tory reign and destroying their one hope of a leader who is willing to stand up for them. The PLP are guaranteeing the decimation of the Labour Party in one fell swoop.
    But then I guess the Labour Party is a small pawn to sacrifice to Corporate power.

  10. Steve Mizzy

    A reality check is required.
    Corbyn has his attributes but being a leader of a major political party requires a great deal more than he has to offer.
    Despite my initial support and hopes for him to be successful, I’ve now accepted that his limitations make him unsuitable to be in his current role. It seems obvious to me that he simply isn’t up to it. And really we should have cottoned on to that a lot earlier.
    Being good and decent, by themselves, are nowhere near enough.

  11. Ruth Smart

    A leader has to be able to lead, to set our a clear vision of the way forward, advocate for that vision and bring their team along with them, being a decent person is not enough to be a leader.
    In my opinion Corbyn could only ever be a leader of a socialist protest party, not a party of government, but that is for the Labour Party to decide.

  12. Dadad

    The answer is simple; we need the Harrogate Agenda (qv) Now.

  13. A Powell

    It’s great having a leader who talks sense and thinks. But it might pacify the ranks if his post was a job-share, maybe with Andy Burnham, who also talks sense. Given the Brexit turmoil, we may need a leader who can be in two places at the same time!

  14. Eric Jarvis

    So far I see more repetition of the idea that Jerry Corbyn is “not a leader” but nobody explaining what that actually means. Like most in the country I am getting increasingly irritated by meaningless rhetoric repreated ad infinitum as if that is a substitute for actually having something substantial to say.

  15. Carey

    Me too Eric Jarvis!

  16. Nigel Bowden

    JC has excellent leadership skills, leads from the front and by example. All those poor saps in the PLP fail to realise he is leading 250,000+ members and nearly all the CLPs with support from the Unions. He hasn’t lied and spun his way to that position, he has the qualities people have been looking for after so many years being treated as irrelevant. He believes in us, we believe in him.

  17. John Woods

    I am amazed that so many people do not understand leadership. Amazed. English history is a working example of how lucky England is in having leaders at crucial moments. These people lack imagination. Think of May 1940 as the most recent example of a change of leadership being crucial to where we, as a nation, are today. Neither Chamberlain nor Halifax (the preferred leader by most of the Tories who hated Churchill) would have won the war. Go to 1960 and Harold Wilson chalanged Hugh Gaitskill for the leadership of the Labour Party. He did not win but is there anyone out who thinks Gaitskill would have won the 1964 election if he had been the leader. I feel the same about John Smith in 1994 but that is more difficult to demonstrate. Anyone who thinks Jeremy Corbyn would have won the 1997 election needs their prejudices examined. He cannot even present a report on anti-semitism without causing people to leave the room. Get a grip. We need to start winning elections, otherwise the delicate balancing act that is the Labour Party will cease to exist.

  18. Colin Bushell

    If not Corbyn. Who

  19. Glenn Stillaway

    I joined the Labour Party in 1995 to campaign against Margaret Thatcher and help elect a Labour MP in my constituency. Since then I have campaigned to keep my MP and increase Labour councillors in my local area. This infighting over who should lead the Labour party will, in my opinion, cause a devastating split in my party and undo all the good work that I, and hundreds of other Labour members, have fought to achieve. Mr Corbyn and the PLP need to reflect on this and ,hopefully, realise the damage they are causing to the party and its supporters. They both need to start to lead and come to an agreement that will not only save the party but forge one that will return to what the party is all about, winning elections.

  20. I campaigned for Corbyn — but he's failed to change the conversation | Left Foot Forward

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