Corbynmania: what came first - the man or the maniacs?

It’s official. The British media has reached full Jeremy Corbyn saturation. It is nigh on impossible, in the midst of silly season, to open a paper (or web page) without coming face to face with the bearded one in all of his dishevelled glory. Corbynmania, it seems, really is running wild.

But from where does this mania come? Corbyn, despite the feverish claims of his supporters, is a rather bland fellow, more textbook Socialist than political caricature. There is something ever so beige about him, in both appearance and personality. If you cast your mind back to 2010, Diane Abbott offered a similar experienced, far left, socialist option - with the added campaign positivity that stemmed from an attempt to become her party’s first female leader - yet she was only able to accrue less than 8% of first preferences, enough for a paltry fifth place finish. With that recent rejection of the far left within Labour, along with the general consensus that Labour were too left wing and anti-austerity in May, it’s difficult to understand Corbyn’s meteoric rise.

It takes a truly special set of circumstances to elevate a candidate to the position of prohibitive favourite who, at the outset of the race, carried similar odds to a 3-legged nag in the Grand National. There are two key factors at play here. Firstly, it is silly season in the press. With Parliament on recess, and the Conservatives wisely doing their best to stay out of the headlines while Labour commits political hari-kari, the race to become leader of the opposition faces daily microscopic analysis. With every political scribe looking for a unique angle, it’s no wonder then that the non-traditional Corbyn has taken centre-stage. Let’s face it - he’s a far more interesting story than his rivals, even if he is, in reality, a dull orator who is simply recycling the worst parts of Foot’s ’83 manifesto, seasoned with his own brand of spurious economics. 

The media have built him up into some sort of mythical giant of leftist politics, and the Labour public (along with the Far Left crazies) have lapped it up. No matter what the man does, it’s a story - be it his avoidance of questioning regarding his uncomfortable political associations or where he buys his vests. Even the actions of others lend him column inches, with the infiltration of the shoddy Labour registration system by supporters of other parties looking to ‘vote JC’ dominating proceedings as the most well-worn narrative of this election. It’s clear by now that all media roads lead to Corbyn, and it is this furious public scrutiny that is, in part, responsible for his ascension. Treat someone as though they are important, and people will believe that they are.

Now that polling has begun, and the press are resigned to rolling out think-pieces on where Corbyn’s leadership will take Labour (or how quickly it will dismantle the party), we are treated to a constant Lefty din about how the media is biased against him. Which brings us to the second key factor in the rise or Jeremy Corbyn. He appeals to the disillusioned Left - a group already wary of the perceived bias of the national press - and therefore the old adage rings true: all publicity is good publicity. Write a piece championing Corbyn and it will get thousands of shares on social media; write a piece critiquing him and it’s because ‘the right are running scared of him.’ Disillusion breeds contrarianism, and the only effect that negative portraits of their Messiah have on Corbynites is to convince them that they are correct in their beliefs. 

Corbyn’s acolytes are reminiscent of the infamous CyberNats who prowl the internet as the self-appointed SNP thought-police. Dare question Corbyn on social media and you will be called every name under the sun. Even those who passively oppose him, such as his fellow candidates, are subject to the most heinous of all Lefty slurs: ‘Tory.’ This overzealous support is the most revealing symptom when diagnosing the cause of Corbynmania. Corbyn is no inspirational figure. He is a mild-mannered man of a certain age, blessed neither with blistering oratory skills nor a heartstring-tugging backstory. In another life he would have been an accountant, perhaps, or a mid-level bureaucrat. Corbynmania is self-perpetuating. At its heart is a large group of disaffected Lefties who were desperate for a folk hero. The majority of them are either too young to remember the shambles that Foot left the party in, or simply don't care. Having been treated to the slick suits and slicker speech of New Labour, they were clamouring for a new hope to cling to, and convinced themselves that Corbyn was that hope embodied.

The mania has been there for quite some time, quietly simmering behind the Labour scenery. Jeremy Corbyn just happens to have been the unsuspecting soul onto whom it latched.