Lessons we can all learn from the Corbyn effect

Sal McKeownSal McKeown is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in education. Sal has taught in schools andcolleges, supporting students with the full range of learning needs from sensory disabilities to mental health issues and autism, but is probably best known for her work on dyslexia. Here, Sal continues her monthly blog series for bee-it, this time looking at the lessons learned from the Jeremy Corbyn campaign…

Whether you are a school, a business or an individual, your reputation matters. If you have a good reputation, people will trust you or your organisation and have a clear sense of your values because they know what you can offer and what you stand for.

The recent Labour leadership process has been an object lesson in how not to behave. It has been fascinating to watch.  One of the things that has stood out is the level of abuse that Jeremy Corbyn has been subjected to by ‘friends’ and foes alike and the fact that he has not retaliated.

He has had plenty of provocation: ‘How did it get to the point where a Sinn Fein-loving, monarchy-baiting Leftie could lead the Opposition?’ howled the Tories in the Telegraph while Labour politicians predicted he would reduce the party to the status of a pressure group rather than a potential government. Tony Blair went for melodramatic rhetoric, declaring: ‘It will mean rout, possibly annihilation’.

Corbyn refused to respond, saying: ‘I don’t do personal, I don’t do abuse’ but instead of being defeated or diminished by these attacks, he attracted new supporters in their thousands and rekindled an interest in political issues which was sadly missing in the anodyne General Election.

61067169[1]Too often in education these days there is a blame game. Look at the issue of examinations. One minute we are told standards have fallen and that schools are to blame; next we are told that too many students are getting the top grades and exam boards are under attack for making exams too easy.

Then there is the issue of failing schools. The head of Ofsted has blamed the lack of good leadership for the failure of some secondary schools. Schools blame parents who do not support their children by attending parents’ evenings or supervising homework. The media blames the reduction of sports facilities for a rise in obesity. The government blames social workers and threatens them with a prison sentence if they fail to protect children from sexual exploitation. The list is endless. The trouble with blame is that it doesn’t solve problems and doesn’t move us forward in what we think and know.  

Instead of blaming others, we need to look to ourselves and identify what we can do to make things better. This is where we can learn lessons from Corbyn’s campaign:

  1. Communicate with the audience: how do people know what you and your organisation stand for if you don’t talk to them? Make it a dialogue and not a ‘message from our leader’.  Corbyn went out on the road and his speeches were peppered with stories of people he had met and their views and experiences.
  2. Be clear in your messages. Corbyn had a ten point plan while his rivals tried to be all things to all people and said little that was memorable.
  3. Be relevant: do your messages address the concerns of your audience? Make sure your views chime with theirs. The Labour establishment focused on winning the next election but this issue was a total irrelevance to most of Corbyn’s supporters. The election is five years away and the cuts were a far more pressing concern to them.
  4. Be positive:– if you are trying to improve matters, don’t just analyse past failure. Corbyn constantly talked about the future and how things could change for the better while the hashtag #JezWeCan reflected the optimism of rank and file supporters.
  5. Stand firm: you need to believe in your messages. Sometimes your views will be unwelcome and you will face criticism from outsiders. School leaders and industry directors are unlikely to face the stress or the vitriol Corbyn endured during his campaign but the interesting thing is that he emerged with more credit than his attackers.

Trust is a precious commodity and it takes a lot of effort to build a reputation. Too many devote their time to smearing others and spreading blame instead of trying to make things better.  Those who have clear messages and a positive outlook stand out from the rest and are more likely to stand the test of time.