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24/12/2019 - "Caught in the aii申i申ii申i申factaii申i申a" by Donal Carroll

Caught in the ‘fact’?: How to recognise Trump cards   

Which of these issues from the recent election are true?

1 Johnson had ‘a 4 year affair’ with Jennifer Arcuri: John Ware ITV ’Exposure’ 1/12/19

2  Alexandra Hall Hall, UK  based in the UK embassy in Washington, in charge of explaining Brexit to the US Government, Congress and public, resigned, saying she was no longer prepared to ‘ peddle half-truths on behalf of a government she did not trust’.

3 ‘Labour to end household tax exemption…’

4 A Labour supporter punched one of Johnson’s entourage at an election rally in Leeds

Now: which were perceived as ‘true’? Which had more influence on voters?   See end of post for fact/not facts.   

 Perhaps readers have their own examples –whether facts or not- which were or should have been influential in the election. One example I noticed was the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) given significant airtime for their legitimate concerns about antisemitism. But was this the whole story? By contrast, any balancing –or indeed counter-information, was given hardly any. For instance, the Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL)  message which was not to deny some antisemitism but publicise their research showing that the scale of Labour Party members involved was minute (1) and that a far greater threat was from the extreme right and a trenchant right wing incoming government  

 Facts/not facts: 1 and 2 are facts, 3 was untrue (Daily Mail- etracted only after the election) while 4 was also untrue (a Tory worker bumped into the outstretched arm of a Labour supporter who was looking the other way at the time). However 3 and 4 had immense coverage; 1 and 2 had hardly any.

 This tilted coverage had a huge influence and begins to explain how a well-known liar  - no I mean someone who was actually sacked at least twice for actually lying- became PM.  As above, a key element is NOT being caught in the facts.  The next two sections are an analysis of how two ‘Trump cards’ were used in the election.

Part 2:  Smothered in othering  

Jonathan Metzi’s Dying of whiteness: (2) backlash white politics in Midwest USstates, uses compelling evidence to show that on 3 issues that matter to these white voters healthcare, schools and gun control, the material realities of white working class life were made worse by Republican policies. How come? For these voters, anxieties about their ’identity’ and losing racial status topped their concerns. Extreme politicians function by casting core issues not as policies but as identities. Pro-gun, against afa make you one of us not one of them. Any compromise is treason. These policies promise greatness on an emotional level but deliver the opposite in economic terms. In an atmosphere of insecurity the fears of voters are played on not by offering solutions to pressing real-world issues but to a perceived loss of status or privilege. and finding ‘others’ to blame. With Trump ‘others’ were immigrants, minorities and liberals, whereas here in the election there was only ‘other’: Jeremy Corbin.

 How did this work in the election here? To assuage voters’ anxieties about identity (even though not under threat) the Tory policy pitch bypassed reason and appealed to emotions. Thus Corbyn ‘offended’(ie was not/was other than)  the establishment pillars of the military monarchy and church (or family nation and tradition, if you wish).to a chorus of status quo reinforcing harumphs:    

What’s wrong with being British? With the British Empire or colonialism? Didn’t it make us what we are?  Shouldn’t the ruling class rule? Isn’t that their role? Did you know Corbyn doesn’t even watch the queen’s speech at Xmas! When anachronistic institutions can be used as political criteria, then we are witnessing the triumph of an unacknowledged card: class deference. We know our place. Append some virtue signalling (Royals can bake) along with a new media-induced  hurdle of ‘Sorrygate’ –the confected apology for anything (from serious issues to something the mainstream media didn’t like - supposedly on our behalf) –even if the actions prompting it were specifically designed to challenge and transform current thinking ie Corbyn’s policies.  He’s not one of ours. Of course to get beyond being caught in the facts, it is necessary to ask what is 'us' and 'ours',  how is this constructed and who benefits?  


Part 3 ‘I’m entitled to be loud’: Constructing ‘leadership’ for a mass public

What is your view of effective leadership? What do you think of this example -a well-known public figure talking about a prestigious public project he was leading:  ‘I want to build bridges…celebrate others.. those whose stories we don’t know… shine a spotlight on people and places not normally shone…  understanding that this doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves… My favourite thing is sharing my platform with others. My mug might be on the cover but I’ll get out of the way as much as possible.’

 This person is immensely popular. A large part of this is how he conducts himself, along with his inclusive, enabling kind of leadership. Who is this? (See reference 3 below)

 What did Corbyn’s leadership consist of? I want to focus on his leadership but his successful membership growth strategy and election policies provide the context.  The first was to grow the party membership to half a million, by mobilising local membership power, broadening party democracy beyond the highly visible but limiting front end (its MPs) many of whom found this highly challenging; and later, the policies. It needs restating that from day one Corbyn did not have even a neutral run –he was the dartboard for attacks both inside and outside his party. By the time the policies emerged, a highly hostile view of his leadership had become a cognitive balaclava.  This contaminated even his successes.  

 From the start, Corbyn’s leadership signature was a dignified enablement: crowdsourcing his first PMQ to give power to those who could not pose them; being very unassuming; not responding to personal abuse with ‘abuse demeans us all’; making clear that leadership was a means to an end not an end in itself - encouraging local member to be leaders rather than followers.  This isn’t greatly different to the example immediately above.


Much of the ‘neutral’ general public (and many MPs) reacted to his kind of leadership as if their sacred cows were not just challenged but confronted. For those steeped in traditional ‘leadership exhibits – charisma, ‘winning’ every challenge, top-down’ decisiveness, being a blowhard, using every opportunity to get ‘on their high horse’, (while being white, middle class and male) this was dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘indecisive’. . 

Over time, the cost of the daily vilification he encountered (‘pathetic, pitiful, terminally weak,  unpatriotic’) became clear: his responses become shorter and flatter but not more synoptic or insightful and always led back to (or a variation of his mantra of ‘for the many not the few’… To a public steeped in ‘tell us what to think’ which invariably leads to ‘mirror our prejudices’ Corbyn being authentic was seen as evasive even false.

When Corbyn did (rarely) mention his leadership, he said he sought power in order to share it: ‘a good leader doesn’t just barge through a door and let it swing back in the faces of those following he holds it open for others because everyone has a contribution to make.  I will be a very different kind of PM. Not one who believes he was born to rule nor one who thinks politics is a game’,

By contrast, Johnson’s bumbling, talking-over, dominant style was seen as ‘natural’; this hid its origins.  This comment by ex-Speaker John Bercow tells us how it was learned: ‘David Cameron  had an enormous public-school instilled confidence, He thinks  that people like him are born to rule, that the natural order is that people like him run things, that he is (in a) superior position’. (Observer 10/11/19)  Ditto Johnson.  

And many love this version of leadership where undemanding followers and entitled leaders collude to create the conditions which terminally underdevelop both. The intention and effect is to create dependence; this relieves followers of the need to really think, analyse and improve their own condition themselves, and allows leaders to wallow in their own omniscience.  As Ronald Heifetz says in ‘The work of leadership/Leadership without easy answers’’: 

  • Followers who want comfort, stability and solutions from their leaders- that’s babysitting. Real leaders ask hard questions and knock people out of their comfort zones then manage the resulting distress   (HBR Dec 2001).

 This is Corbyn’s sin, to attempt to democratise leadership and seek a sustainable, enabling form of it. He asked that we stop being led, ask critical questions and lead ourselves. And it wasn’t just the rightwing media that didn’t like it.

So when you hear mutterings of ‘Taking back control’, ask who is taking, who is giving and at both an individual and collective level, what kind of leadership is needed for a better society to emerge.

What do you think?  Comments welcome. 

Interested in a Critical Difference initiative ‘Leadership or Losershp: Ditching dependence/Democratising leadership’?

Get in touch:



 2 Jonathan Metzi’s Contradictory choices RSA issue 2 2019  Dying of whiteness: backlash white politics in Midwest US states of Missisippi, Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee

3 Stormzy UK rapper, musician, entrepreneur Editing Observer Magazine 15/12/19   

What does not ‘always get the recognition it deserves’ is Black culture and achievement.




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24 Dec 2019 - Caught in the fact?: How to recognise Trump cardsFact attack, truth-decay and critical thinking Click here to read Donal Carroll 's latest blog post: Caught in the afacta™?: How to recognise Trump cards

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