On Jeremy Corbyn: It takes a lot of spinning to look this unspun

The argument goes that Corbyn is so successful because he’s “unspun”. He apparently shoots from the hip, says

“At least he’s authentic.” 

That’s what I’ve heard from sensible, level-headed people who would normally consider Labour’s act of electing a leader from the Bennite left to be an act of near insanity.

The argument goes that Corbyn is so successful because he’s “unspun”. He apparently shoots from the hip, says what he thinks and has no concern for his image. This is backed up by the fact that, as Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman said, Corbyn made up his mind in the mid 1970s and hasn’t seen good reason to change it since.

Needless to say, the truth is quite some way from the unspun myth.

Modern politics is full of politicians who are frequently spun as being ‘unspun’. Nigel Farage is a great example of this in the UK – his unspun ‘man of the people’ image being created  by very clever spin.  Donald Trump is taking this quest to a whole new level in the US. And Corbyn is the latest incarnation of the ‘authentic’ politician, who is apparently a long way away from spin doctors and PR techniques. When anti-politics is the order of the day, it is generally the ‘unspun’ anti politicians who prosper.

But, as Dylan Sharpe of The Sun has pointed out, the Corbyn campaign has actually been running a pretty smart PR operation and a far smarter PR operation than his rivals, who are apparently the prisoners of the spin doctors. He’s successfully positioned himself as the ‘change’ candidate, while the other candidates have seemed cautious and unsure. And his spinners have made a virtue out of the fact that he’s unspun.

Take a look at some of his language. He uses “we” when talking about the campaign, rather than “I” – effective maybe , but certainly isn’t the language of somebody who’s somehow immune from PR. Indeed, it’s something that PR advisers have been recommending to radical campaigning groups for some time. The use of social media to generate a sense of momentum around his rallies is an exemplar of a good social media strategy. Look at the way he’s tried to obfuscate his way out of difficult positions about membership of the EU and NATO, his dubious positions around Hamas, the IRA and Milosevic. All of a sudden, this politician who apparently “says what he thinks” has taken to measuring his position based on the audience he’s addressing. The old Bennite trick of talking about the importance of “the issues” to avoid a difficult question is also pure spin.

And the people who’ve driven the Corbyn momentum are certainly not shy when it comes to spin and spinning. Simon Fletcher, a veteran of the Livingstone mayoralty, is as much of a master of the dark arts of political PR as any Blairite. Owen Jones, who’s done more than anybody else to rejuvenate the left in the UK, has shown himself to be immensely effective at distilling messages and making a strength out of social media.

Let’s not pretend that anybody can run a successful leadership or general election campaign without paying a lot of attention to the various tools of political communications. Corbyn’s success is related to many things, including superior organisation and, arguably, a mass delusion in the Labour Party about the nature of their defeat. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with him ignoring the kind of communications advice that Labour politicians have, with mixed results been accepting since a young Tony Benn advised Hugh Gaitskell on communications.

The ironic truth is that, in politics, being seen as unspun is the ultimate PR triumph. Dolly Parton famously said that, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” In Corbyn’s case, as with Farage and others like him, it takes a lot of spinning to look this unspun.