Building trust is an area where Jeremy Corbyn’s success or otherwise is fascinating to consider. On the one hand, he is extremely successful in building trust among his supporters, many of whom have either come back to mainstream politics or come into it for the first time specifically because of him. His attraction to them is manifold, but one strong theme is that he is trustworthy in a way that other politicians are not. His refusal to compromise on or change his principles during his political career, his long record of voting against the party leadership and whip when he believed it was right to do so and his stance as an “awkward sod” outsider all contribute to this narrative and increase his attractiveness to his supporters, who view him as trustworthy and authentic in a way that they perceive other politicians are not.
Set against this is his abysmal record of building trust and consensus with his Parliamentary colleagues, many of whom seem to regard him as someone they can no longer work with, and of building trust amongst the electorate at large. His poll ratings amongst the public are disastrous, with few believing either that he is doing a good job as Labour Leader or that he would make a good Prime Minister. The response of his supporters to both of these facts is interesting, as in both cases it comes back to the issue of trust.
In the case of his poll ratings with the public, the narrative goes that this is because the press and media are against him. The neo-liberal media elite have a huge vested interest in the current status quo, to which Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters pose an immediate and serious threat. Therefore there is a conspiracy amongst the media to take him down, and this is why the public don’t like him; because they have been brainwashed by the media.
This theory can’t work with the parliamentary party, who clearly know Jeremy Corbyn personally and can make up their own minds, so a different theory applies to them. They (at least, the 80% who do not support Jeremy Corbyn) are Blairite neo-liberals, goes the narrative, who have a vested interest in the status quo and are threatened by the popular support for Jeremy Corbyn. They fear that he may be on the verge of bringing in a genuinely Socialist government, and therefore are hell-bent on bringing him down before he can do so.
This also has the benefit of squaring the difficult circle that Jeremy Corbyn is the second most rebellious Labour MP of all time, having voted against the Labour leadership and the Labour whip 428 times when Labour was in power. How can his supporters criticise the parliamentary party for not supporting him when Jeremy Corbyn has spent his whole career not supporting the leadership? Is it not a sign of their integrity, that they defy the leadership in the service of what they believe to be right?
Ah, no, goes the argument, Jeremy Corbyn defied the leadership because he is principled, but the parliamentary party defy the leadership because they are unprincipled; they are doing so out of self-interest, expediency, and cowardice. For this narrative to succeed, it is important that any suggestion that the parliamentary party may be equally principled, and may genuinely believe that Jeremy Corbyn is a bad thing for the Labour Party, for the Left and for the people that they serve, be robustly squashed. It’s a useful fiction for Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, but it’s not very helpful in terms of building and maintaining trust within the party.