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Could Corbyn win votes from Ukip?

Jeremy Corbyn has that quality that many politicians lack: authenticity, says Ruby Lott-Lavigna.

I recently wrote about a brief stint on Tinder where I tried to convince people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Although my search for true love continues, what started as a gimmicky article idea actually ended up exposing some interesting perspectives on the leadership race. Admittedly, a lot of people were annoyed I wouldn’t meet up with them, didn’t care who Corbyn was or just ignored me when I started talking about politics. However, whilst right swiping my dignity away, I encountered a pro-Corbyn Ukip voter.

No, you read that right. Voted Ukip; loved Corbyn. He told me the reason he was attracted to Ukip was because of Farage, and the impression he gives of being sincere. “You won’t see him pussy foot around the question like all these politicians and that’s the same with Corbyn, he answers questions straight and that’s what I like about him. I love someone who stands up for what they believe in.” He even said he’d consider joining to vote for Corbyn.

I’ll be honest – I think most people who vote Ukip aren’t actually that committed to their policies. In fact, on average, I suspect if you ask a Ukip voter what’s in their party manifesto they won’t be able to tell you. But they will be able to tell you about Farage – about how he stands up to the bureaucrats in Brussels, about how he speaks his mind, about the way he doesn’t seem like everyone else in politics. People join Ukip – like my tinder match did – because of Farage, because of a leader who convinced them not by what he was saying, but the way he was saying it.

I once read something interesting about the extent to which politicians will have to voice train in order to appear electable. They’ve got to hit the right balance between being friendly and authoritative, repeating the same vanilla diatribes but in a way that sounds like it’s the first time they’ve ever said it. Sounding human, sounding interesting, is so essential to the electability of a politician, and people will work for years on trying to strike the right tone. If this is testament to anything, it’s that appearing charismatic as an MP is a strangely unusual and sought after skill. Natalie Bennett, Ed Miliband, people on the left who have ostensibly good policies, all got slated by the left for their inability to appear convincing. I’m reluctant to admit that politics is a popularity contest where your random genetic combination and socialised charisma skills win you votes over actual intelligence or policy, but maybe for a handful of the electorate - the handful that vote Ukip at least – that’s what it is.

And who can blame them? Politics is boring. Corbyn isn’t just winning because he’s good, he’s winning because no one thought he would win and that’s exciting.  Jeremy Corbyn is an unusual candidate for contemporary politics and it’s why we can’t fully predict the reach of his support. It may seem unlikely that you could convince someone to switch from one end of the political spectrum to the other, but punters had Corbyn at 500/1 and now he’s comfortably ahead in the polls so the unthinkable is happening. And the fact that the unthinkable is happening simply perpetuates this trend – the more Corbyn stands out, the more interesting and invigorating he seems to potential supporters.

Ukip is entry-level politics, capitalising of fear tactics: the cheapest advertisement technique possible. It’s not clever but it’s superficial and gets people listening. But in its essence, in its fragile logic it can easily be broken, all you need is a compelling leader who appears to “stand up for what he believes in.” If you just want someone who takes a stand, breaks the trend and looks vaguely human and less like a cyborg, then Corbyn is the only other well-known politician doing that today. He even doesn’t really like Europe.

Personality politics is not something I endorse. It draws away from the policies and also tends to fall in line with the status quo (old white men = charismatic). Yet, Corbyn’s different. Or at least, he might be different if he’s able to bring Ukip voters to Labour I’ll support personality politics if he can do that. 

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Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.