Why Corbyn is doing so well. Or, what is the purpose of a political party?

Jonathan Freedland has an excellent piece for The Guardian on why Jeremy Corbyn is doing so well in the Labour leadership race:

Listening to some of his young backers this week, it became ever clearer that they are not supporting him because, having made a calm assessment of the four candidates, they believe he has the best chance of returning Labour to power. On the contrary, that has nothing to do with it. This week’s YouGov poll of Labour supporters – and we should remember our post 7 May vow never to listen to another poll again – found that, among those backing the Islington MP, only 10% thought it was important that the party leader “understands what it takes to win an election” (the figure was 63% among supporters of Liz Kendall).

What’s needed instead, one enthusiast for Corbyn told me, is “someone who can articulate what you feel”. The key is “to have someone who represents what you believe in. Why does it matter whether other people believe it or not?”

I suspect that gets to the nub of it. For a lot of those taking part, choosing a party leader is not about assembling a governing majority, winning power or even making a change in society. It is about identity. It is about being true to yourself. In this sense, joining the Corbyn tribe becomes something non-negotiable, or at least impregnable to routine political arguments about electability, popular appeal and the like.

Which rather prompts the question: if winning elections isn’t a significant part of what a political party is about, what’s the point of it? How is a political party different in its purpose from a residents’ association, a pressure group, a trade union or a trade body – all of which have viewpoints to champion and people to defend – if it is not also about winning elections?

To take that question from a Corbyn supporter: “why does it matter whether other people believe it or not?” The answer is: because if other people don’t believe it too, you won’t get their votes and you won’t get the power that comes with that to change people’s lives. What’s more, that power will still be there and will still be wielded – but by those who believe something else.

P.S. On a similar point:

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