The Labour Party’s appeal, and an appeal on behalf of Tom Cruise

20 June 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 19 June 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
I noticed that the Labour Party did very well in the recent British general election, but you said that they would be thrashed by the Conservatives because the Labour leader does not wear a tie.
Political fan

A few weeks ago, I wrote about British politician Jeremy Corbyn. I bemoaned the fact that he rarely wears a tie and that his suits are awful. I was certain that he and his opposition Labour Party would be crushed in the British general election because he refuses to look like a credible statesman, unlike the sitting Prime Minister Theresa May, who was advocating a simple message of a “strong and stable” continuity. I am very happy that I was very wrong. The Labour Party did not win the election but they did gain 30 seats while the Conservatives lost 13 and their outright majority. When May called for the election in April, her Conservative Party had a 20-point lead in the opinion polls while Corbyn had an approval rating of -40%. The Labour Party did not win the election but they did create enormous excitement and gathered so much momentum that if another election were called today, they would probably win, and Corbyn can take all the credit. What was his appeal?

Authenticity, probably. European and American voters have become bored of overly cautious politicians who speak in bland, poll-tested sound bites designed to appeal to one group without annoying another group. May conducted a clumsy campaign where her answer to any question was a bloodless and confusing obfuscation, and she even refused to turn up to a debate with Corbyn, which made her look weak. Her election manifesto promised more stultifying austerity and a bizarre “dementia tax”, over which she made an immediate and embarrassing U-turn. Corbyn, on the other hand, spoke everywhere and passionately as if without fear. He seemed to be unafraid that his distinctly old-fashioned Labour manifesto might alienate vast sections of the electorate, and he never wore a tie. I guess that is authenticity and as such, Corbyn probably has more in common with tell-it-like-it-is Donald Trump than he would care to admit.

Back in the 1960s, only 15% of British voters switched sides between elections but now it is 43%. Many votes were up for grabs but Labour managed to grab a wholly new section — young people. Young people voted for the first time in unprecedented numbers, with one million registering to vote in the month after the election was called. The Conservatives saw their share of the overall vote increase to 42% and normally that would have won them a very good majority but this year, nearly 70% of those under 35 voted for Labour. These new votes were enough to win marginal seats and almost all the university towns.

Can Malaysian politicians learn anything from Labour’s winning of the youth vote? The British youth vote might be in a unique moment. Young British people did not vote in large numbers during the Brexit referendum and saw their European futures killed by old people. Their arrival on the scene is too late to change Brexit but they have now shown their displeasure. Labour made very specific appeals to young people by advocating a continuing open access to Europe as well as promising free university education, and the election campaign itself had a youthful energy with its sense of a return to a mythic old-fashioned Labour Party zeal. Corbyn seemed to embody this zeal, which is not bad considering he is 70.

One interesting aspect is the role played by traditional media, or perhaps their lack of a role. The Conservatives were backed by the biggest selling newspapers, and even traditionally left-leaning The Guardian was lukewarm in its endorsement of Corbyn. The Brexit-loving Daily Mail and the Murdoch media empire waged a vicious campaign against Corbyn, especially calling him a terrorist sympathiser because of comments he once made about Northern Ireland. But young people were repulsed by the old media’s campaign, even turning to Labour because of it. There were two terrorist massacres during the campaign and still people turned away from the Conservatives, who are the traditional law and order party. Has the old media lost its power to sway voters?

Are there any lessons for Malaysia? Probably not. In order to keep a slender Parliamentary majority, the Conservatives are having to find partners (ironically with a party from Northern Ireland with alleged links to terrorism) but they did win the election. If they had invested their time in better gerrymandering, then they could have lost and yet still won.

Is it my imagination or is Tom Cruise a very strange man?
Curious and curiouser

I have heard that The Mummy is not a very good film but I want to make an appeal on behalf of Tom Cruise. I used to absolutely hate Tom Cruise. I thought he was a terrible actor and an extremely strange man. I still think he is not a very good actor and he remains distinctly strange but nowadays, I love his movies and I wish he would make 10 every year. Tom Cruise movies are big budget blockbusters that transport us to an idealised world of utterly implausible yet slickly perfect action set pieces. They are the kind of movies that would be laughably ludicrous if they did not have Tom Cruise. Any other actor would try to inject some humanity or irony into the character but Tom Cruise does not need to bother us with any of that nonsense because he is not really human.

All we know about Tom Cruise’s personal life is that he has something to do with the shadowy Scientology cult, but he never talks about it. He never talks about anything other than the movie he is promoting. It is as if he only exists in that movie and has no personal thoughts, loves or fears beyond the movie. It is a rare person who wishes to completely abdicate all traces of a personality in the service of the movie. His strangeness and lack of any discernible loves and lusts must be why his movies no longer have a love interest. The audience would be confused and appalled if he tried it on with an actual human woman. I would not want to be Tom Cruise but I am glad he exists. He is the perfect big budget movie actor.

Reprinted with the kind permission of