The New Old in Politics
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th September, 2015
On both sides of the Atlantic something very interesting is happening: politicians who already qualify for their old age pensions have been enthusing mass audiences, many of them young. Of course, it might just be coincidence that “Corbynmania” — which should see Jeremy Corbyn elected as the new leader of the UK Labour Party next week — is happening at the same time as veteran senator Bernie Sanders is pulling in the crowds in the United States, but I doubt it. I believe what we are seeing is the rejection of the slick vacuousness of a younger breed of politician for whom image is all and who avoid saying anything that might offend anyone. In politics, as in so many things, Britain was influenced by what was happening in the United States, so all three main parties learned not only American campaigning techniques but also to carry out opinion polling and run focus groups to discover what the voters really thought about a range of issues so that they could tailor their policies accordingly. But what the Corbyn and Sanders phenomenon has shown is that in reality the voters do not want bland, look-alike politicians who spout what they think the public wants to hear. Instead, in their tens of thousands, people are rallying to the cause of two men who have very strong views, based on principle not pragmatism. One may not agree with everything they say, but their sincerity is transparent, and that is new and exciting, in contrast to the political discourse of the past decade or so. Though Jeremy Corbyn would be horrified with the comparison, he is really the first leading UK politician since Margaret Thatcher to strand up and say what they believe. Other politicians need to learn from that, if they are to offer an appealing alternative. Tim Farron, the new Liberal Democrat leader, must assert himself as a man with principles and beliefs and not be afraid of doing so. I doubt whether Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has that within him; he is the ultimate PR politician, no doubt a basically decent chap but as insipid as a used tea-bag. In the meantime, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic need to recognise that something has changed in the political landscape. Whereas before older politicians had to keep their eyes on ambitious younger rivals snapping at their heels these days the real challenge may be from older, sometimes wiser, more experienced colleagues who are paradoxically more in tune with the zeitgeist..