Corbyn quiddity

Tony Blair tells Corbyn’s supporters that they are irrational and over-emotional by planning to vote for him. All political responses are a tangle of emotion and opinion. In any case, since Corbyn supporters probably don’t trust TB, it seems unlikely that they will be swayed by him. A US politician once told Richard Fenno, a political scientist, no one will vote against you if you are on first-names basis and if you chew tobacco with them, then they will even fight for you. People vote for those they believe and it is easier to believe people you like. Corbyn is likeable because he speaks his own mind – we think we know who he is – and he avoids patronising people.

If it is difficult to like liars or obfuscators. People who are loyal to any organisation, including political parties, will sometimes disagree with it, and those in leadership positions have no choice but to defend their team. Otherwise people will see the whole team as disorganised, wasting time on disagreement rather than doing anything useful. So Ministers bury their own views to be loyal to colleagues. At other times they lie to cover up mistakes, particularly when in government because they have such scope for causing havoc. But it can be difficult to tell pernicious government lies from understandable loyalty to party. Either can appear patronising because concealment, with a pretence of honesty, is insulting.

There is something exciting about a rebel. Corbyn was the most rebellious MP during the Blair government. When I interviewed him he related a typical conversation between him and his whip, Sadiq Khan:

Whip: ‘Hello there Jeremy, just wanted to check how you are planning to vote on Tuesday.’

Jeremy: ‘I’m going to vote against.’

Whip: ‘OK.’

Jeremy: ‘I mean against the government.’

Whip: ‘Yes, I know.’

Jeremy: ‘Sadiq, at this point you are supposed to persuade me to support the party.’

Whip: ‘I can’t be bothered. Would you consider abstaining?’

Jeremy: ‘No, sorry I can’t do that.’

Whip: ‘OK.’

Any party needs a few rebels, it seems to me, to keep them on their toes. Obedience from all MPs within a party would imply a troubling lack of ideological diversity. Whether he would make a good leader of the Labour party is a complete unknown, from my viewpoint, so I make no comment on that.

(For more, see Emma Crewe, House of Commons: an anthropology of MPs at work, Bloomsbury).

Anthropology of Parliament

When publishing a book it is exciting to what total strangers make of it. Danny Dorling wrote about my latest – the House of Commons, an anthropology of MPs at work – in the Times Higher Education, in favourable terms and it is a cracking read. But it was interesting to see a book about politics become political material. He suggests I said Tory MPs do a lot of shooting, skiing and being rude about state schools but he exaggerated. One Conservative made the claim about some Tory MPs shooting and skiing in a particular week and another was reported in the press as denigrating state schools. More importantly, I did not suggest that Nicola Blackwood did anything but win her seat in the 2010 election fairly and legally. I have never interviewed her but was quoting a piece she and other Conservatives wrote about winning marginal seats (Blackwood’s article). She only ‘stole’ the seat (not votes) in the sense that the previous MP expected to win it, not in an underhand way.

A reader commenting on the Amazon site was not obviously political but was out of date. He wanted me to write about how the Commons fits into society as a system; structural and systemic models were once fashionable in anthropology but I would suggest that anthropologists gave them up many years ago on the grounds that they imply rigid boundaries, lack of dynamism and can fail to take account of diversity and individual or group performance. So the analysis that weaves through the text is more about the importance of history and culture rather than systems – as he says, my intention was to read the culture of Parliament. He suggests that because organisational ethnographies have been written before, for example about the BBC, there is no need for more. That would mean the end of anthropology of people at work. It all makes me realise that I should perhaps explain more about what contemporary anthropology is about but this was not the right book for dense scholarly method and theory. Fortunately I have just been asked to write a journal article about that so I’d better get on with it. 

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