After drawing to Iceland in the group stages of Euro 2016, Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his disdain for what he felt was the squad’s ‘small team mentality.’ He was clearly unimpressed with the manner in which the team celebrated, stating that they acted as though they had just won the Euros, rather than an opening game in the first stage of the competition.
Here it should be noted that Ronaldo, whose strict tanning regime has made him look like a kind of leather-bound mannequin, is one of the highest paid, most-revered footballers in the world, who plays at the highest level and at one of the wealthiest and most successful teams, Real Madrid. By contrast, Iceland is the world’s smallest country with a population less than the city of Leicester, whose captain plays Championship football and has two managers, one of whom is a former dentist.
Ronaldo’s comments were duly criticized and mocked for precisely the reasons stated above. That Ronaldo should carry himself off as an entitled and arrogant dick comes as no surprise and, as anyone who has watched the surreal documentary he endorsed about his life can attest, he is also incredibly insecure about his own greatness. Even so, his failure to respect and congratulate a team who overcame incredible odds to make it to their first international tournament shows that perhaps he should examine his own attitude when throwing out such statements.
In a sense, perhaps it is Ronaldo who has the small team mentality. I would call it petulance, arrogance, an inability to look past one’s own ego to be the bigger man, to do what is good and right and expected for everybody involved. Hell, he hadn’t even lost that game! Last night, as I watched the team that Ronaldo has spurned progress to the quarter-finals, I was reminded of the put-down he had thrown their way. And in that moment, as I turned my thoughts away from football and to the hellish mania that is England’s political landscape, the words took on a greater significance. In these troubled times we now find ourselves in, it would appear that this ‘Small Team Mentality’ is not just consigned to Portuguese superstars, but other notary figures who should be acting as leaders rather than as spoilt children.
Jeremy Corbyn has a small team mentality. Know that it gives me no pleasure to write this. Today, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition faced a vote of no confidence from his party in which he spectacularly lost – 172 votes to 40. It is easier for me to name members of his shadow cabinet who have stayed than those that have resigned. This mass revolt has been in the offing since he was elected leader, but it was triggered by the result of the referendum on the European Union. Mr Corbyn, and the Labour party, had campaigned on remaining in the EU, and had duly lost. After nearly a year of disappointments, it would appear that this failing was the final straw.
Why do I say that Corbyn has a small team mentality? Because in a time of national turmoil, when our Prime Minister has resigned, when our markets are collapsing, when lies and naked racism win the day, when our citizens are abused in the street, their shops torched and their livelihoods in question, when the Far-Right appear more empowered and enabled than ever before, when friendships and alliances lie in ruins, when true leaders are few and far between, and when it becomes clear, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that one man can no longer lead, what is it that the man in question does? He refuses to stand down.
I had supported and voted for Mr Corbyn last September, believing him to offer a radical new change for a Labour Party that I believed to be beleaguered and directionless at the time. In the disappointment of the General Election, I thought he could offer something that none of the other candidates did. I voted for him because I felt he might be the only one who would finally offer a real alternative to the crushing austerity policies of the Conservatives. I suppose I was not wrong. He certainly offered an alternative.
The year has not been an easy one. Corbyn has faced a hostile press and a hostile parliamentary party, even before he was elected. His every decision has been met with criticism. He has been derided as a traitor, a communist, and a moron. He has been pilloried in the popular press as a buck-toothed throwback, a beige-jacketed geography teacher who has just discovered Das Kapital. They even made a musical about him. Politicians, on both sides of the House, have not been much kinder. Every time he stands to speak he is met with jeers and mockery, while his contemporaries cringe or check their phones, blushing that they should belong to the same party as him. Arguably, this is a baptism of fire for which no one is deserving, and it is true that the year has not been easy on him. But he has not made it easy for himself, either.
Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the difficulties, gaffes and missteps has been one of repeated indifference. Instead of proactively getting in front of stories and controlling narratives, he lets newspapers run with whatever they want. Corbyn’s approach to media relations serves as a perfect example of why you can’t ‘no comment’ the press. After all, if you don’t give those bastards something to chew on they will happily chew on you. In addition, instead of tackling disagreement and disunion in his party ranks he has instead shrugged them off for being snide, and suggesting instead that they respect his mandate to lead. He pushes on with his vague message in some bloody-minded belief that whatever it is he is doing, it is working. Worryingly, he has utterly failed to take stock of how his leadership may have alienated people, particularly through the actions of his supporters, both online and off.
Momentum, the organisation formed after Corbyn was elected, seemed at first to be a positive step to making more people active and engaged in politics. Yet as Corbyn has faced criticism, some harsh and some reasonable, the group seems to have devolved into a kind of isolated sect of armchair conspiracy theorists who will turn on anyone who speaks wrongly of their anointed leader. Labour MPs such as Jess Phillips, BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssburg, and activist Abby Tomlinson have all been victims of online trolling from these delusional keyboard warriors. Phillips herself has, on various days, been called a ‘traitor’, a ‘Zionist’ and, more recently, ‘vermin.’ No prizes for guessing what links these three people. What has Corbyn done to address this? Well, following the resignation of many of his shadow cabinet, he addressed Momentum. At a rally. To keep him as leader.
Jeremy Corbyn is not responsible for his followers, but he is responsible for the kind of message he sends, and how it looks when the main body of his support seem to care far more about fighting the Labour party than they do about standing up to the real forces that are tearing our fragile union apart. Above all, Corbyn, and his support base, seem to resemble exactly what the rest of the country must resent (and a group that I no doubt belong to). London-centric, middle-class, educated liberals who have no clue what is going on in the communities North of Watford, or why it might be that nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric may have proved so popular as rallying cries for people left behind by globalisation and the free market, long disenfranchised by political parties and social progress and left to rot.
What exactly is it that Jeremy Corbyn hopes to achieve by his continued obstinacy in the face of certain defeat? What exactly is it that his supporters are waiting for, that he should suddenly transform into the credible political force that can unite this disquieted isle?
The world is a scary and dangerous place, more now than ever, and in these times it can bring some comfort to think that it is just you against them. If only everyone else saw things the way you do! As a former Corbyn supporter, I too have been convinced of demons – demon politicians, demon Blairites, and a demon media that is both unbiased and unfair. Seeing my leader humbled, time and time again, I have contented myself to think that he could succeed if only everyone else would just give him a chance. The problem is, he hasn’t given anyone else a chance either.
For good or ill, the British exit from the European Union happened. There is no point in blaming each other for it, not even Corbyn. Right now, when all seems likely to fall into chaos, we need leaders who are willing to see past their small team mentalities. At a time like this we need somebody who can speak across divides, be they generational, racial, political, by region or by class. By his defiance, by his stubborn refusal to work with others, to compromise, Jeremy Corbyn shows himself up as a man who is engaged in a conversation that only he can hear. He risks the Union, the country, and Europe by his egotism. And now he must go.