Can PR put a positive spin on Jeremy Corbyn?
Jeremy Corbyn rocked the political world in September 2015, by storming to victory with nearly 60% of the vote in the Labour leadership contest – despite starting as the 200/1 outsider. But it must have been the shortest political honeymoon ever. Barely had the announcement been made, than the media backlash began – in earnest. From his failure to sing the national anthem, to his ‘Soviet-era’ wardrobe, Corbyn has been criticised on all fronts.
The 66-year-old, with his scraggly beard and Bob Dylan cap is an anti-politician. He is neither slick, nor charismatic and that makes him the complete opposite of the Conservative Party’s David Cameron (which could ultimately be his greatest asset). He has refused to court political and media convention and has not followed political protocol by stonewalling journalists. This led to him earning the ‘anti-spin candidate’ title.
His rebellious approach has won and lost him many fans, and he’s certainly got the country talking. It’s anyone’s guess how sustainable Corbyn’s brand of politics is. But if he wants to win over his haters and make an impression on the 2020 ballot box, he needs to work on his image.
This is where he can use PR to his advantage. He should:
Make use of his anti-establishment stance
Jeremy Corbyn is not a traditional politician in any sense of the word. He refuses to bow down to political correctness and is not scared to disagree with his own party. In fact, he has voted against Labour in the Commons over 500 times in his political career and even called for former Labour prime minister Tony Blair to be put on trial for war crimes.
Corbyn expresses his views whilst refusing to wear a tie or do up his top button – he’s quite simply the definition of anti-establishment and this is his key point of difference. His PR team needs to keep reminding the electorate of this.
Continue to do things differently
Corbyn likes do things differently. This was evident during his first Prime Minister’s Questions when he asked David Cameron questions that had been emailed in by his supporters. Whilst many political commentators criticised Corbyn for sounding more like a “radio host” than a leader of the UK’s second largest political party, he also received a lot of praise for engaging the public in a manner that demonstrated his willingness to think outside of the box. This was a great way for Corbyn to ingratiate himself to voters, whilst making himself newsworthy – for all the right reasons.
Start making progress with the press
Over the years, Corbyn has found it difficult to form a productive relationship with the press because of his controversial views. At his unveiling as the new Labour leader, he accused media outlets of causing a “faux drama” around the leadership election. Moving forward however, this negative approach to the media is unsustainable. Corbyn needs to realise that his battle with the press has just begun, and he will be the target of intense scrutiny over the coming months and years.
He needs to start restoring relations with newspapers that have sympathised with the Labour Party in the past. The British newspaper media has an enormous amount of influence in the UK and it’s going to be impossible for him to succeed if they’re all against him.
What else should he do?
Corbyn also needs to surround himself with the best PR people to capitalise on his everyman image and persuade voters that his policies and approach are best for Britain. If he can find a way to continue to talk unmediated to the media, he may also – like London mayor Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage – gain some mileage with the wider electorate for being at ease with himself, a bit of a maverick, and refusing to talk to a script.
“This is just Jeremy being Jeremy” will, no doubt, soon become a standard response from the Corbyn press team, when it’s eventually hired. But hired it must be, or else he’ll risk crashing and burning even faster than anyone imagines.