For a gentler, kinder 2016, it’s time to liberate your inner Corbyn

It is the time of the year when, in homes across the country, moods will be on the turn. The cards, decorations and little lights which, a matter of hours ago, conveyed seasonal jolliness now represent yet another dreary housekeeping task to be completed before the return to work.

The pleasure of human company may be wearing thin, too. Jokes will have an edge to them. Outbreaks of conversational small-arms fire will suggest that domestic truces, having just about held over the past 24 hours,  are now beginning to break down. The queasiness you feel will turn out to be more than yesterday’s over-indulgence fermenting dismally within you. It is the effect of watching too many TV specials which, gurgling with manufactured sentimentality, were cynically designed to make you feel nicer and more generous-spirited than in fact you are.

At this moment, with the world idling in holiday neutral, a startling thought may occur to you.

It is this: that Jeremy Corbyn was right. What were the words he used? Gentler, kinder. He was talking about politics but, in spite of the media’s mockery, the idea has somehow lingered in the atmosphere.

What if you followed in your own life the way of gentle Jezza, meek and mild? How would it be if you managed to maintain that famous seasonal goodwill beyond the holidays and into the New Year? What if you discovered your inner Corbyn?

Hard-eyed, cynical friends may point out that the new kind of politics was not enough to prevent Labour supporters sending photographs of dead children to MPs who had voted in favour of military action in Syria. And that the background and past pronouncements of the new leadership put distinctly less emphasis on gentleness. And that creepy Ken and scary  Diane are back on the scene.

You will look at the bigger picture. For all the gaffes and the occasional moments of ridiculousness, the new Labour leader has done something rather remarkable: he has changed the register and tone of political debate. There has been less macho posturing of the Paxman kind in political interviews. The jeering and leering of parliamentary debate is becoming more muted.

Suddenly, point-scoring and playing to the gallery have begun to seem a touch old-fashioned. Cameron and Osborne may not have become gentler or kinder in person, but there has been shift in their public personae. The recent stories in the press about sleek and ruthless young Conservative campaigners and their nasty bullying ways, feel as if they belong to a distant, less empathetic age.

Of course, the world outside remains as ugly as ever. Our culture may fret about bullying after some new horror story from the world of business, politics or public life, but it is more pervasive in its various forms than it has ever been.

Here is where your new kinder, gentler inner Corbyn will make a difference. As you watch television, you will become increasingly aware that many of the most popular reality  shows depend on humiliation of one kind or another for their ratings. It may not be described as bullying on The Apprentice when three successful older people sneer and belittle the attempts of the naive and ambitious young to be like them, or on the jungle celebrity show where contestants turn on someone who fails to play the game acceptably, but it is. Enjoying the discomfort of others, even when we know they are being well-paid, stimulates our natural human nastiness and makes us restless for more. Your inner Corbyn begins to question whether it is healthy for power to be expressed that way for the purpose of entertainment.

When you turn to newspapers, you notice that one group of successful middle-class tabloids  (in a spirit of gentler, kinder journalism, the name need not be mentioned)  relies for its popularity on keeping their readers’ discontent, jealousy and resentment simmering over a low flame of enraging news stories.  The targets are consistent  –  women who work, migrants, older men with younger partners, benefits claimants, the French, civil servants  – and in every issue, page after page rumbles and throbs with unspoken class envy or contempt. None of that would be desperately important, you realise, if these grindingly negative stories were no more than a quiet backwater in the news entertainment business. Instead, they set the political agenda and terrify the BBC.

In the kinder, gentler world of which you dream over this holiday period,  you will remember that, as Jeremy Corbyn has proved over the past few months, the manner of communication is more than a matter of words. It can influence every aspect of our behaviour.

On the internet, the yelping and snarling of those who hunt down, on message-boards and on Twitter, those judged to be less perfect than themselves, has become deafening. You see that the nastiness of the internet is infectious. It is easy to be swept along by a shared sense of one’s own rightness and find oneself part of a conveniently invisible mob. Your inner Corbyn will become wary of those shrill tones of hatred, the impulse to sign petitions which urge the banning of this and that, or the sacking of someone deemed to have said the wrong thing.

In political life, Corbyn has been accused of being too analytical and bloodless at times when leadership is required. A crisis, we have discovered, is not the time for a politician to ask questions. We expect impassioned clichés   – ‘shoulder to shoulder’, ‘enemies of freedom ‘, that sort of thing  – to bring us all together

For non-leaders, there is nothing wrong with asking awkward questions. As you enter 2016, you will find themselves alert to bullying and nastiness of all kinds. In your quest to make your own little corner of the world slightly kinder and gentler, you will resist the temptation to complain about daily life.

Looking beyond our borders, you might even reach the conclusion that, in spite of life’s frustrations and difficulties, we are blessed.


First published in the Independent, 26 December.