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What Nigerian politicians can learn from Jeremy Corbyn


Leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Unite headquarters in London on September 20, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE’N

It’s been nearly a year since 51.9% of Britons voted to leave the EU, ending a 43-year partnership. Since then the pound has been unsteady, hate crime has increased and despite Theresa May repeatedly reeling out the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit,’ there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding what exactly Brexit itself means, and what the ramifications of leaving the EU actually means for the country.
In the midst of all these, Theresa May called a snap election, despite assuring the public she wouldn’t call one until 2020. It was a calculated move; she knew doing so would increase her majority in government, giving her the freedom to handle Brexit however she wanted.  As she became prime minister through a leadership contest rather than through a popular vote, winning an election would also solidify her position. And a win was pretty much guaranteed.
Commentators and pundits unanimously  predicted that Theresa May’s government  would win the general election by a landslide, at one point polls showed the deficit between the two parties as high as 20 points. The Conservative Party  were preparing for a victory that would go down in the history books, and swathes of the Labour party were braced for a loss that would do the same, a senior member of the party predicted the worst defeat since the 1930’s. Why? One man, Jeremy Corbyn.
Arguably one of the most divisive leaders of the Labour party, he was deemed ‘unelectable’, by the opposition, treated unfairly by the press, and written off by members of his own party, who tried to oust him. Though he had fervent supporters and seemed to galvanise more people in the waning days of the campaign, few thought he’d mount a real challenge to Theresa May. But that’s exactly what he did. Jeremy Corbyn lost the election by just 2,227 votes, but has been declared the real winner by many. In a statement before the final result, he said his party has ‘changed the face of British politics,’ a notion many agree with. The Conservative’s campaign was no doubt shambolic, but that doesn’t take away from Corbyn’s appeal which has seen him go from ‘outside’ to potential prime minister in waiting. How? By showing there’s room for a different kind of politician – a politician that is principled, relatable and authentic.
Even those that disagree with his politics cannot argue that Corbyn has strong principles. Despite the attacks levelled at him, it is broadly accepted that he is a decent and principled man. And it’s not by word of mouth. He has a long record of activism, in line with his beliefs. He leads a relatively ‘normal’ lifestyle (in an interview with The Guardian he revealed he doesn’t own a car and doesn’t spend much money), and his voting record prove it. Corbyn is a man of principle who is unafraid to stand by what he believes is right, even if it’s out of step with the rest of the party.  In the era of the slick-suited politician who will say anything to stay in power, his genuine belief, commitment and authenticity resonated deeply with voters tired of empty cliches and slogans.
Although there are no concrete statistics yet, it has been widely said that young people swung the election. Corbyn engaged with young people not by slick suits and glitzy photoshoots, but by actually addressing their concerns and making them a part of his vision for Britain. One of the key pledges in the Labour party manifesto is to scrap tuition fees which would relieve millions of young people from the strain of debt. This way and more, Corbyn reminded young voters that they matter. When he first emerged on the scene, Corbyn announced that he sought to bring back a ‘kinder’ brand of politics, steering clear of dirty politics and personal abuse. His clean campaign was a marked change from the usual barbs and jabs that litter election season. His ‘kinder’ brand of politics was evident in his message too – a message of hope and optimism, instead of the Conservative brand of fear and negativity. He held rallies across the country and debated his proposed policies passionately, each time showing the electorate there is a different way to do politics.
The political landscape of Nigeria is in no way similar to that of the UK, but I would argue there is a desperate need for politicians that do politics differently. In Nigeria, it’s difficult to tell what values and principles our leaders have. And if you don’t know someone’s values are, how do you know they are in sync with yours? How can you expect them to know or care about what’s important to you?
Many Nigerian politicians are unrelatable, not just in terms of their luxurious lifestyles, but in the sense that they are completely out of touch with the struggles of the electorate. Earlier this year, a video went viral when a governor harshly chastised students for protesting the closure of a university, giving the impression of little sympathy for students; and there was the tone deaf ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign that was heavily criticized on social media.
Irrespective of party lines, Nigeria needs more politicians that are not only principled (in word and deed), but are authentic, relatable and passionate about moving the country forward. Many young people who hoped the last election would usher in a new era have been bitterly disappointed, and with 2019 around the corner, it won’t be long before politicians up the ante and enter full-on campaign mode. Even though Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win the election, he was right when he said he had changed the face of British politics, perhaps he can inspire some Nigerian politicians to do the same.

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Jeremy Corbyn
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