Sustaining a weekly blog on the Labour Party’s existential crisis is a difficult task: events are moving rapidly even here in far-distant rural Norfolk. In our constituency party committed people on both sides of the divide are determined to get their voice heard and to ensure that their views prevail. I am producing this blog edition at a time when there is a stand-off between the Parliamentary Labour Party, who have despaired of Jeremy Corbyn’s capabilities and approach, and many supporters in the country who are infatuated with his leadership.
For several decades, I taught human resource development on a part-time basis at various colleges and universities. In one of my standard topics I tried to engage the students in a discussion on the difference between leadership and management. I would set this as an essay topic and the more organised students would reproduce the following from one of my PowerPoint Slides: ‘The term ‘leadership’ is often used almost interchangeably with ‘management’, but leadership is different: whereas management is about rational thinking, leadership appeals more to the emotions’.
There are many theories of leadership and again I refer back to my old lecture slides. Two observations were of particular relevance. First that leadership is situational: the emotional appeal depends on the context. Secondly that leaders need followers: you are only a good leader if you can attract and retain followers who will offer commitment and support during bad as well as good times. Using this second observation Jeremy Corbyn is indeed effective. He is acquiring devoted supporters, but, and this is an important but, those supporters are interested in establishing a social pressure group, not a Parliamentary opposition, let alone developing a credible government.
Another slide in my standard lecture reproduced the national occupational standards for management that were in force at the time. Four component elements of management were listed: managing operations; managing finance; managing people; managing information. I don’t think I am doing him an injustice when I say that Jeremy Corbyn has not the slightest interest in management and probably doesn’t recognise it as important in any way. It is evident that his communication with those who he should see as team members – his shadow cabinet – has been casual to a degree. Reorganisations have been shambolic. Probably the worst example was the appointment of Ken Livingstone (unwisely pulled out of obscurity) as joint chair of the defence review without notifying his Shadow spokesperson, Maria Eagle in advance.
To his supporters, Corbyn’s sincerity and commitment, coupled with his ability, developed over years of practice, to rally meetings of the already committed, inspires great loyalty. They can turn a blind eye to his glaring deficiencies or ascribe them to unfair media coverage, plotting Blairites; even more disturbingly they can dismiss them as of no consequence. To his detractors, Jeremy Corbyn’s limitations and intransigence, and lack of even the most basic management competence, led to the overwhelming and unprecedented no-confidence vote from people who work with him most closely.
As I am writing this piece there are rumours of an attempt to broker a settlement. This will not work. Labour as a social pressure group and Labour as a potential party of government are wholly different objectives; they cannot be reconciled.