Toggle Menu
  1. Home/
  2. Business/
  3. Leadership/

Monsieur Zen is indeed fine, thank you for asking


Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been the only credible option for two years, but it took a series of bizarre failures on the part of the Government to get this message across.

Whatever you may think of the Labour Party and the result of the general election, two things are indisputable: opposition to Blairism has won, and British politics has immutably changed – thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The New Labour project, a product of Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to abolish opposition and victorious in 1997, has failed: Labour’s spectacular performance last week has shown that the Blairite principle of emulating the Conservatives can only win votes in the short term, but ultimately strips the party of its credibility, thus making it irrelevant – as has been demonstrated by Labour’s dwindling support from 2001 onwards.


There were many signs of this in the weeks before the election. The mood began to change as a result of various factors, but one major role was played by Labour’s excellent campaign, which gave Mr Corbyn the opportunity to bypass the media as the usual obstacle to genuine information and to deliver his message to the public first-hand, in rallies that led Tony Blair’s former deputy, John Prescott, to say that “we never pulled crowds like this in 1997”. Unprecedented numbers of young and first-time electors registered to vote, and a social-media strategy that was smarter than the Tories’ as well as a novel appeal to middle-class voters in traditional Conservative seats contributed as well. However, it was, in my view, the Labour Party’s leader – deemed its greatest weakness until very recently by almost everybody – that turned out to be its most valuable asset.

The common attitude towards Jeremy Corbyn went something like this: he is a good man, but a dreamer. He is unelectable. He is weak. He has no charisma. And he has a beard.

It is astonishing that it took an almost unrealistic degree of ineptitude on the part of the governing party to change that widespread and outlandish perception; outlandish because anyone who bothered to look into his leadership style without preconceptions would have realised that the opposite of all those things (with the exception of the beard, of course) was true.

One remarkable error of judgement concerns his alleged weakness. His victory of the second leadership election should have been a signal to even the most sceptical Labour MPs that a man who not only wins against his contender, but increases the number of votes under a constant barrage of lies, defamation and personal abuse is probably more than capable to run a government. Instead, the Parliamentary Labour Party, most newspapers, TV channels, the other political groupings, public-house opinion, the business community and members of his own shadow cabinet continued to parrot the ill-informed and unsound impression that Mr Corbyn lacked strength. This did not change right until the election, before which his self-description as “Monsieur Zen” in response to the question how he deals with the onslaught was met with ridicule.

Those who mistook resilience for obstinacy and now wonder how on earth he managed to achieve such success should have contemplated his choice of words a long time ago.

The media’s campaign to rid British politics of an inconvenient player on the scene has misfired during the campaign, demonstrating the limits of their personal-attack-and-misrepresentation approach. However, it did have the effect of spreading venom in the political discourse; this was manifest during the BBC’s Question Time special, when Mr Corbyn faced a series of hostile questions from audience members regarding his stance on nuclear war.

His position is one of avoiding nuclear conflict at all costs through an inclusive and, above all, rational way of dealing with potential aggressors – the very approach that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which has stopped Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Pointing this out, sadly, seemed to have no effect on said audience members, as they’d already decided that Mr Corbyn would let Britain’s perceived enemies annihilate us, and neither Iran’s lack of nuclear capabilities (and there is nothing to suggest that attacking Britain would be their intention even if they did have them), nor the fact that North Korea’s tiny arsenal of short-range missiles would barely make it over the border, made them recognise this simple and effective modus operandi.


The BBC’s decision to give an undue amount of airtime to such a non-issue notwithstanding, the incident further strengthened Mr Corbyn’s perception as a calm, measured, issue-focused and, most of all, deeply ethical candidate for the highest office, and furthermore proved that he is willing to dispense with what has, over the past few decades, become the received wisdom that a politician’s strategy must be driven by PR norms – a development whose discontinuance should be very much welcomed. Again, a leadership quality that has been evident for a long time has turned out to be a major vote-winner: supporters of the Labour Party – potential as well as actual – do not want another robot in a business suit, but a leader who represents their views, most of which happen to be shared by the majority of the population.

These two points alone make Jeremy Corbyn a more than suitable choice for the office of Prime Minister; but while the previous failure to acknowledge them was a result of deliberate misrepresentation, there are two other aspects of Mr Corbyn’s leadership that have simply been ignored: his long record of being on the right side of history, and the meaningful response to both the current consensus and the populism of different shades that has swept Europe and America, which the Labour Party now represents.

During his time as Member of Parliament, he was known for being a maverick. The most spectacular example of this was his fierce opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, during the run-up to which he was one of the few MPs who voted against it, became chairman of the Stop the War Coalition and for which, most recently, he apologised on behalf of his party, stating that it will “never make the same mistake again” and that those responsible must be confronted with the consequences. The reasons he provided for his opposition and predictions of what will happen as a result of the war were met by his adversaries with the usual dismissive arrogance, and history’s vindication of his position may explain to some extent the aforementioned silence over the issue. Nonetheless, his prognosis that the invasion will make the world less safe and increase the threat of terrorism has been substantiated by the deterioration of instability in the region and the rise of ISIS.

Meanwhile, much of the western world has been inundated with populist opposition to current governance – that is, populist, as opposed to popular. These anti-establishment sentiments are generally marked by noisy slogans and proposed policies which are simplistic in nature and offer nothing of substance, as is demonstrated, among other examples, by Donald Trump’s election as US President, widespread support for the National Front in France or the outcome of Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union, which was also a result of a populist Leave-campaign. In each of these cases, voters were swayed by a desire to abolish the current order, but, crucially, no suggestions of viable alternative policies were made. Their proponents made every effort to convince people that this order should be replaced immediately, whilst giving no explanations as to what to replace it with.

This is what makes Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party a realistic solution to a problem which consists of an established order that has become untenable on the one hand, and a nihilistic alternative that is as meaningless as it is insane on the other: Mr Corbyn does not talk about destruction, but offers a solid set of policies – one that you may or may not agree with, but which at any rate does not exhibit any such obvious flaws, but is instead guided by reason and humanism.

Mrs May’s incapable leadership, combined with a very poor campaign and deeply unpopular Conservative policies, helped neutralise previous attempts to undermine Mr Corbyn’s authority, attempts which were hitherto quite successful; had his leadership not been sabotaged for two years, who knows, the style and policies that have increased Labour’s share of the vote by 15 per cent might actually constitute the government now. Right until the morning of the 9<sup>th</sup> of June, the notion that such ideas might gain significant ground in the midst of mendacity, mediocrity and myopia were inconceivable, but Monsieur Zen’s path has proven to be the way forward for those of us who want our views to be represented at last, and are unwilling to give a single inch to the Tories’ agenda.

Ferdinand Warg