As a psychiatrist, I have been captivated by the reaction to Corbynites in the Labour leadership contest. Those who back Corbyn are being labelled by other Labour party members as more emotionally volatile and less predictable, grounded by the elder statesmen on the leadership side of the divide who see backing Anyone But Corbyn as a sign of maturity and calm. The Corbyn backers are said to be “in trauma” and their reaction is an “emotional spasm” to the shock of the general election. Less charitably they have sometimes been described as “not normal”, “narcissistic” or even “mad”.
This type of psychological labelling of the “out group” is very interesting. As individuals, and as a society, we have a tendency to adhere to the belief that we are driven wholly by the superior realm of facts and logic rather than the whimsical realm of emotion. We see emotion as the unreliable and, often, undesirable facet of human nature. Particularly in the West, many would rather reject the fuzziness of emotion wholesale, in favour of a world in which we are rooted solely in the solid ground of reason.
Every thought has an emotional substrate behind it. Every judgement we make will, in part, be a product of our underlying emotional terrain. That doesn’t make it right or wrong; it’s just how we work. In fact, what could possibly be wrong with our emotions affecting our judgments and behaviour? After all, our emotions are the net with which we capture the world around us.
In my experience, the problem is not when we are driven by emotion - the problem is when we don’t know that we are. Emotional maturity is not about being able to put our emotions to one side and “get on with things”, but, in fact, about maintaining a deeper awareness of our emotional world, from one moment to the next so that, through that, we can find a way to act in accordance with our values. The difficulty arises at times when we are unable to do this. The more fused we are to our world of thought, the less able we are to see the emotional foundation from which it arose. That’s why those with the most strident of opinions are often the ones who will admit least that their views have arisen from emotion.
This is why I am concerned when we hear from certain politicians and commentators that those backing Corbyn are the ones who are going through some kind of meltdown, while the rest have somehow risen above emotional reactions. Ironically, their immediate reactions to Corbyn’s rise are perhaps the most emotional of all. The assessment by the Anyone But Corbyn camp is as subject to assumptions and wish fulfilment as anyone else’s.
The idea that Labour could swing far enough to the right to win enough Tory voters in England to form a majority, without winning back any support in Scotland – and without simultaneously losing a swathe of seats in its remaining heartlands, as a result of the disillusionment it evokes - is based on just as much wishful thinking as others accuse Corbyn supporters of using. They have no more right to describe themselves as “realists” than anyone on the other side.
For me, the healthiest debate is one in which people bring their emotions to the table – rather than resist them in the suffocating pretence that they can be supressed. For that, a space needs to be created in which all can speak freely, without fear of being ridiculed, side-lined or pathologised, for it is through such discourse that real and creative change can emerge.
Corbyn has returned a vibrancy to our body politic that has been long overdue. If he is smart, he will see an electoral strategy in this itself. Giving people a say in how they’re governed is as much in keeping with the tide he is riding as any of his individual policies are. Allowing the public to deliberate (perhaps through citizen’s juries) and then vote directly on issues that affect them, where called for by petition, would be a way of keeping patent the very space that he has almost inadvertently opened. An openness to radical ideas like this would demonstrate that, far from being a howl of anguish, the surge that brought his campaign alive was actually the birth pangs of a new politics.
Labour leadership: The Contenders
Labour leadership: The Contenders
1/2 Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn started off as the rank outsider in the race to replace Ed Miliband and admitted he was only standing to ensure the left of the party was given a voice in the contest. But the Islington North MP, who first entered Parliament in 1983, is now the firm favourite to be elected Labour leader on September 12 after a surge in left-wing supporters signing up for a vote.
2/2 Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham started out as the front-runner in the leadership election, seen as the candidate of the left until Jeremy Corbyn entered the race. The former Cabinet minister has found himself squeezed between the growing populism of Corbyn’s radical agenda and the moderate, centre-left Yvette Cooper, not knowing which way to turn. It has attracted damaging labels such as ‘flip-flop Andy’, most notably over his response to the Government’s Welfare Bill. He remains hopeful he can win enough second preference votes to take him over the 50 per cent threshold ahead of Corbyn.