Is authenticity the new spin? This week Jeremy Corbyn will address the Labour Party conference as leader. He does so with a strong mandate, having won an even bigger leadership vote than did Tony Blair in 1994.
Corbyn’s rise, alongside Donald Trump’s front runner status for the US Republicans, shows “authentic” politicians gaining credence on both sides of the Atlantic. The philosophical definition of “authenticity” is “the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit of character, despite external pressures”. This is quite rightly viewed as a good thing. But until now it has been deemed as unlikely to lead to political success. However, in researching my new book Campaigns that Shook the World I discovered that authenticity is actually the characteristic that distinguishes all great campaigns from the also-rans.
And, counter-intuitively, it has become even more important in the connected world of shareable digital content in which we now live. Great modern campaigns – such as “Obama for America” in 2008, the London 2012 Olympics and Dove’s campaign for “Real Beauty” – have an authenticity that underpins their ability to mobilise people, in something more akin to a mass movement than a marketing campaign.
Corbyn, like Obama, has reached disillusioned voters through grassroots appeal, despite the scepticism of the press. But unfortunately for the beige-suited one, his campaign appears to lack other proven characteristics for success, such as charisma, multi-media strategy and a complementary leadership team.
Authenticity is an essential starting point for Corbyn, but he needs a group of winners around him who can keep his principled drive for greater influence on track. In other words he must prove he has the credentials for modern leadership.