We cannot be sure if Jeremy Corbyn will lead the Labour Party in the elections in 2020 and we also do not know who will lead Tories, but in the longer terms what is Corbyn’s greatest political strength, and why, and what about his greatest weakness, and why?
Robin Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Kingston University
Corbyn’s greatest strength is that he comes across as utterly authentic. In an age where mainstream politicians are addicted to focus-groups, opinion polls, and general PR management and will adjust their position to be as inoffensive to as many people as possible Corbyn stands out as someone who is honest and speaks his genuine and undiluted opinion. Corbyn’s opponents were perceived (a little unfairly) as an undifferentiated grey blob. They were to most people, and a great many Labour supporters, nothing more than ‘not Corbyn’. I think that in the eyes of Labour Party supporters Corbyn was defined by his ideals and honest. His opponents were defined by nothing very much.
Corbyn’s greatest weakness is the flipside of his greatest strength: his undiluted, strongly held and uncompromisingly expressed views. A lot of people may admire him for being an honest and passionate politician in contrast to the PR-managed mainstream. However, at the same time as admiring him as a person, I think too many voters are not interested in his ideas. Simply put, everything we know about the British electoral marketplace tells us that the Labour Party with Corbyn as the leader has no chance of winning an election. To be fair, most people, myself included, said Corbyn had no chance of winning the Labour leadership, so we could be wrong. However, the data we have on the British electorate is far better than the data we have on Labour Party members, so the clever money is still on Corbyn never becoming Prime Minister.
Corbyn’s strength is that he has mobilised a large number of people into the Labour Party and has ridden a wave of enthusiasm for a particular brand of left wing politics. His weakness is that this appeal maybe rather like preaching to the converted. He has yet to demonstrate that he can muster enough support to be able to present the party as an alternative government. The next election is a long way off and we have yet to see any indications from the opinion polls. It is too early to tell, but his first five days in the job have not gone smoothly.
Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in Politics, POLIS, University of Leeds
Currently Corbyn’s biggest strength is his image. He is viewed by both supporters and opponents as a conviction politician, someone who has kept faith with their views regardless of their popularity and has offered a different package to the public. Opinion polls suggest that the public are not happy with politicians who are seen as being a little bit slick, a bit too media savvy and generally not particularly honest. Corbyn could not be accused of this currently, which might win him some supporters.
His biggest weaknesses are his views and his history. Because of his more left-wing position, he will not appeal to a wide range of people. This limits his appeal and his electability. Additionally, Corbyn has supported some fairly contentious groups and this (along with the comments of his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell) will be a constant thorn in Corbyn’s side. His comments will be repeated ad nauseum and will raise concern amongst some voters.
Mick Temple, Professor of Journalism & Politics, Staffordshire University
In short, his biggest political strengths are (1) that he offers a substantially different programme from the Conservative party, and a break from the consensus politics of Blair, Brown and Miliband (2) that he has galvanised the Labour party’s grassroots membership, (3) an overwhelming endorsement from those party members and (4) appears to have engaged the young.
The biggest weakness is that he is not seen by many observers as a ‘Prime Minister’ (looks and image being important nowadays) and that a largely right wing national press is fundamentally opposed and hostile to his anti-austerity politics. They will be vicious in the months and years to come and despite their declining influence they will have an impact on the wider news agenda.
One more thing! He has much opposition in his own parliamentary party …