Concerts for Corbyn: personality cult or good cause?

By Paul Moss
The World Tonight

image copyrightReuters

His supporters may be referred to as Corbynistas. They may wear T-shirts bearing the slogan "Jez We Can!" But the Labour Party leader has always insisted that his own career and his own personality is not what counts.

It was a point Jeremy Corbyn made yet again after the recent Labour leadership contest.

In a video addressed to party members, he looked into the camera and assured them: "This isn't, and never has been, about me. It is about all of us."

Now, however, the accusation has grown one step louder that what Mr Corbyn leads is in fact a personality cult. And the cause of this criticism is not a new policy initiative, or appointment to the shadow cabinet, but a series of rock performances that have been announced, under the banner Concerts for Corbyn.

media captionPeter Hooton from The Farm says music can help engage young people in politics

"Get involved! Fight for what you believe in!" So says the announcement from Momentum, the campaign organisation set up to provide support for Mr Corbyn's leadership, and which is behind the events.

Acts already signed up to take part include Paul Weller and The Farm, as well as younger performers like Stealing Sheep and Temples.

image copyrightReuters
image captionLabour's John Spellar fears that Mr Corbyn's support could become a Trump-like personality cult

Momentum praises Mr Corbyn for the "realigning of the Labour Party towards the principles of social justice".

The concerts, it says, will be in support of this. Yet it is the title that bothers critics, like Labour MP John Spellar. "Traditionally, people run all sorts of events in British politics," he argues, "but normally they run it for the party."

"It just seems to be part of a personality cult," he adds, "very much an American sort of innovation. The end of that is the grotesque personality cult around Donald Trump."

There have been plenty of music-based political movements before in Britain: Rock Against Racism in the 1970s, followed by the Red Wedge bands who toured together in the 1980s, opposing the policies of Margaret Thatcher.

Yet, while the latter may have spoken out against a particular prime minister, there was no individual opposition figure they explicitly supported, no Concerts for Kinnock.

"The idea is to counter a stereotype in the mass media of what Corbyn is," says Peter Hooton, The Farm's lead singer, and one of the most prominent supporters signed up for the new series of concerts. He says it was not his idea to call them Concerts for Corbyn, but he is happy to play under that banner.

image copyrightJim Jones
image captionJim Jones says performing in a concert for Corbyn gives him a way to channel his passions into a good cause

Mr Hooton's stance is echoed by Jim Jones, singer with the band Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind. While The Farm have a history of writing songs with a political message, Jones has to date focused on more personal subjects. However, the election of Labour's leader has fired up his determination to play music with a wider ambition.

"I look around every day at what's going on, and I'm angry. I'm quite happy to take that anger and fire it down the barrel of a microphone for Jeremy Corbyn."

image copyrightSophie Nazemi
image captionMomentum's Sophie Nazemi says people have been "inspired" by Corbyn

Momentum denies that this amounts to the promotion of a personality cult.

"Jeremy never says 'I', he always says 'we'," argues Momentum spokeswoman Sophie Nazemi. However, asked why the group they chose to call them Concerts for Corbyn rather than "for Labour" or even "for Socialism," she acknowledges her party leader's central importance.

"People have been vastly inspired by Jeremy Corbyn, because of what he stands for."

The first Concert for Corbyn takes place in Brighton on 16 December.

Around the BBC