Nick Robinson: “We have moved into an X Factor-isation of politics”

"It's almost gladiatorial – it's like thumbs up or thumbs down," says the BBC's former Political Editor

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How did no one predict Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the Labour leadership contest? That’s the question on the lips of many puzzled political commentators after the structure of the left underwent a radical reorganisation last month. 

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Nick Robinson – the BBC’s former political editor – thinks the overwhelming support for Corbyn comes down to a movement towards what he calls the “X Factorisation of politics”. It’s “almost gladiatorial,” he said at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, “it’s like thumbs up or thumbs down. In other words, you’re just being asked, ‘do you broadly approve of this guy or broadly disapprove?’ regardless of the consequences.”

Robinson – who quit his political post in July to join the Today programme – said he’d spoken to young first time voters and those who had joined the Labour party to vote for Corbyn, and “the idea of asking what it would mean in five years was an alien one – they simply wanted to say we like him better just now, he’s a bit of a change, throw the cards up in the air, who knows what might happen but it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?

“It does strike me that sometimes people are voting for things with the same sort of mindset that they would do in a TV show rather than with that thing of ‘who do I actually think is going to govern the country in 2020?'”  

Robinson also attributed the change in voting attitudes to modern day consumerism. “There is a desire to shop around. I mentioned the X Factor but to use another parallel, we believe in a shopping universe where we expect to be able to choose and click like that. We want to be able to choose our book online, choose our groceries online and the idea that we are told you can only make two choices – Labour and Tory – and you can only really do it once every five years and they’ll choose a leader and the policies for you, it’s alien to people who are used to the idea of being able to make a lot of choices.”

The political journalist had one final reasoning for Corbyn’s overwhelming support: a lack of jeopardy.

“When I deliberately met people who were going to vote Corbyn, I raised all the obvious objections to see how they dealt with it. I sensed they thought there was no risk, partly because there was a defeatism in Labour ranks – we’re going to lose anyway, the Tories are here forever (not true in my view but they thought it) – but also because there was no perception of jeopardy in terms of peace or prosperity.

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“People didn’t really think their lives would dramatically change if they made the wrong choice whereas I think when I grew up in the eighties, some of the fury for and against Margaret Thatcher meant there was a much bigger sense of jeopardy – that your class was at stake, your role in society was at stake – and I think there are fewer and fewer people who really think that about politics.”