Corbyn and Farage: Different earthquakes, similar men

On paper, party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage represent the opposite poles of British politics. But in reality, it takes similar approaches to get to where they are today.


It is difficult for a country known as the home of euroscepticism to keep its citizens interested in what goes on in the European Union. On the few occasions that the EU is talked about in British media, it is usually about the referendum on leaving it: the so-called Brexit.

When Jeremy Corbyn was appointed as the new Labour leader last month, it seemed that every major party in Britain would oppose the EU in 2017. It wasn’t until his announcement that his party would not be doing so that the scales finally tipped.

The key players on both ends of the spectrum – Nigel Farage on the far-right and Jeremy Corbyn on the left – have gained attention in Europe. One of them is known on social media as the “lizard man” lobbying against immigration and the EU, the other as the crazy old socialist taking Labour by storm.

Both have been called “political earthquakes”. Since Corbyn’s election as leader last month, Labour has gained over 60,000 new members.  Farage has turned UKIP from a small right-wing eurosceptic party to the party with the most representatives in the European Parliament. Most of all, both have reeled in immense support – Corbyn Mania and Farage Fever, to be exact.

Just your average Brit

“With both of them, what you see is what you get,” says English-born media psychologist Dr Paul Williams.

“They have very clear charisma but in very different ways. Charisma doesn’t mean that you’re a very outspoken person, but that you bathe in the energy of your followers. Both Farage and Corbyn do that very well.”

“Nigel Farage uses fast speech as his main weapon.” Photo credit: Michael Vadon, Flickr

They have managed to tap into what their voters consider to be the common British man. There is a reason why Farage is often seen with a beer in his hand: so is the common Brit. Despite his public school education and corporate career as a broker, he has managed to make himself appear as the anti-establishment outsider.

Corbyn, on the other hand, appears as the working class hero – which is fitting for the leader of a party historically known as the party for the working class.  He is, as Dr Williams describes him, very down market and very believable. This is a politician who has not changed his views in over 30 years and consistently refuses to engage in personal attacks against other politicians.

“If he’s not genuine,” he adds, “he’s doing a very good act.”

Attack one, offend thousands

Corbyn’s passivity forces his opponents to attack him out of sheer frustration, making them seem barbaric by attacking a defenceless old socialist who looks a bit like Santa Clause after a diet.

When David Cameron proudly announced that the Labour party under Corbyn was “a serious threat to our national security”, it just made him look foolish. Corbyn was elected by more than 250,000 Labour members. By mocking his approach and views, his opponents risk appearing like they are mocking the hopes of a quarter of a million British citizens. It is almost like Cameron waking up one morning and saying the opinion of everyone in Newcastle (268,000) does not matter.

This is where Corbyn and Farage have the most in common. It’s not how they communicate but how their style forces their opponents into difficult situations.

Farage achieves this by being a relentless and clever debater. He has become the leader of those who feel ignored because their views are not socially acceptable – who, in the last general election, were 3.8 million British citizens. Dismissing his party’s views only cements his popularity.

Lynne Mennie, a former executive producer of the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, thinks both politicians are still in the realms of “fantasy politics”.

“At the moment, they are their party. They don’t really have to deal with the idea of collective responsibility, or negotiate their way through policy differences within their party, or even prove that their policies are practical.”

Talking the talk

Corbyn and Farage are two of the few politicians who still get standing ovations while they make their way up to a podium. Off-stage, they both struggle. On the many occasions that Farage has been caught off task and asked to talk about issues other than immigration and the EU, his speech tends to fall apart. Corbyn is also not as comfortable speaking off the cuff as he is on stage – he likes the security of the podium, although he has the ability to express himself diplomatically when put on the spot.

Corbyn in his comfort zone: the podium. Photo credit: David Hardman, Flickr

But they are both skilled interviewees – straight-talking, to the point, and disarming.

“They use language that’s easily understood by people,” says Dr Nicola Furrie, the Journalism course leader at Robert Gordon University.

“They both score high on authenticity, which is the gold standard. Many other politicians are given scripted lines to stick to and this constraints their thinking and spontaneity, which comes across in interviews.”

But it would be a mistake to assume Farage and Corbyn have avoided all professional advice. At Labour’s latest party conference, their slogan “Straight talking, honest politics”, was not a spontaneous phrase.

“It will come back to bite him when issues become more complex,” adds Dr Furrie, “as they inevitably will.”

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