Calling all cliches: A decent man

One of the great cliches of Jeremy Corbyn’s stewardship of the Labour Party has been the widespread acknowledgement that he is ‘a decent man’. Here’s a selection of quotes that explore that decency, from the leadership election last year through to the start of the parliamentary rebellion. Just for comparison, we’ve included a few other decent men in politics…

‘In part, Corbyn’s supposed decency comprised unthinking subservience to a bewildering array of causes, such as the internal Labour factions like Socialist Organiser or foreign movements like Palestine Solidarity. Nor was he always the epitome of chivalric tolerance that his supporters now proclaim. In 1981, for instance, he demanded a purge of soft-left MPs – such as Neil Kinnock – who had failed to back Tony Benn for the Deputy Leadership.’ – Leo McKinstry, Independent 16 June 2015

‘This is an unimpeachably decent man, without a shred of ego or aspiration, who has stuck with the sort of beliefs – equality of opportunity, decent wages and workers’ rights, not selling weapons to brutal dictators, that sort of outdated guff – that Labour long ago disowned.’ – Matthew Norman, Independent 22 June 2015

‘Principle, of course, always gets mentioned when it comes to Mr Corbyn, even by his opponents. Along with his warmth, decency and kindness, the tireless work in his constituency, in the non-Blairite end of Islington, the part with child poverty and knife crime, not restaurants like Granita.’ – Adam Lusher, Independent 18 July 2015

John McDonnell, a decent man…’ – Martin Hannan, Edinburgh Evening News 4 August 2015

‘In the harsh light of hindsight, Milifandom was just an entertaining sideshow that – along with some wildly inaccurate polling data – distracted us from the facts that public opinion was gradually drifting rightwards, the Conservatives were way out in front and [Ed] Miliband was doomed to be remembered as a decent man who was hamstrung by his enduring love of stone tablets and his total inability to eat sandwiches.’ – Stuart Heritage, Guardian 4 August 2015

‘Mr Cameron should resist the siren voices urging him to stay in power. His decency and normality is a weakness in some respects for a politician, since he lacks the intensity and obsession that drove the likes of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.’ – Ian Birrell, Independent 11 August 2015

‘Repeatedly I was asked about the possibility of a Corbyn victory. Gently I pointed out that a party led by Corbyn, saintly and decent man that he is, was likely to be unelectable. Which only met with the riposte that since the other three candidates appear to be unelectable too, why not go for the real thing?’ – Chris Mullin, Guardian 11 August 2015

‘We can, must, and I believe will, change our ways. This campaign is about hope, optimism, decency.’ – Jeremy Corbyn, Daily Mirror 18 August 2015

‘I once saw him [Jeremy Corbyn] browsing in a second-hand bookshop, a habit that to me suggests refinement and decency. (Questionable, I admit: few politicians have been keener browsers of second-hand bookshops than the Rev Ian Paisley.)’ – Ian Jack, Guardian 24 August 2015

‘While Corbyn is widely acknowledged as a straightforward and decent man, many of those around him have raised fears that division may lie ahead.’ – leader column, Observer 13 September 2015

‘In his first remarks as leader on Saturday he stuck to the ethical messages that made his candidacy successful and attractive – fairness, equality, decency, openness to others. So far, so good.’ – leader column, Guardian 14 September 2015

‘At least Ed [Miliband] had one winning quality. Whatever you thought of his policies, you could see he was an essentially decent man trying his best to overcome his failings. When things did go wrong, he was big enough to laugh at himself.’ – Michael Deacon, Daily Telegraph 26 September 2015

‘Corbyn is surrounded by an experienced party machine and a parliamentary party that can outwit him. It has not been pleasant to read of him arriving at Labour HQ, clutching sandwiches and lacking authority. Shadow ministers have pre-empted policy, seizing the notion that diverging views can be accommodated on issues such as Trident or Irish unity. When Corbyn tries to regain initiative, restating radical stances, it reinforces an impression of chaos. He is a decent man, now embarrassingly at sea.’ – Ben Lowry, News Letter 1 October 2015

‘Those who dream of life after Corbyn are looking for a new messiah. Mr [Hilary] Benn isn’t it. He’s a nice man, a decent man, courteous and kind and thoughtful. He is not Labour’s Henry V, a battle-king that men and women will follow through fire towards glory.’ – James Kirkup, Independent 3 December 2015

‘Memo to the media bubble: real people like Jeremy Corbyn. Away from Westminster he’s perceived as an honourable, decent man – even if voters disagree with his views.’ – headline to article by Paul Vallely, Independent on Sunday 13 December 2015

‘I know Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent man. The problem is, he sometimes surrounds himself with too many people from the same background.’ – Michael Dugher, Sun 10 January 2016

‘Jeremy Corbyn is a “decent man” but, she fears, unlikely to survive. “I don’t think he’s the man for the job, if I’m honest,” she adds ruefully.’ – Julie Walters, interviewed by Susie Mesure, Independent 28 February 2016

‘Jeremy Corbyn is a decent man and no bigot, but he has done far too little to defend Israel’s existence as part of a two-state solution, a long-standing Labour policy.’ – Baron Levy of Mill Hill, Independent 21 March 2016

‘Whatever you think of his policies, IDS is a decent man who genuinely wants to address the grinding poverty of the kind he first witnessed during a visit to the Easterhouse housing estate in Glasgow when he was Conservative leader. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, meanwhile, leave the vast majority of voters cold with their dogmatic analysis.’ – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph 22 March 2016

‘He likes Jeremy Corbyn – “an extremely decent man” – but says he is “closer politically and ideologically” to John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor.’ – Yanis Varoufakis interviewed by Mick Brown, Independent 31 March 2016

‘It is for each individual to make their own decision, I have made mine and I made my views clear to Jeremy. He is a good and decent man but he is not a leader and that is the problem.’ – Hilary Benn, resigning from the shadow cabinet, The Andrew Marr Show 26 June 2016



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