In politics, recent evidence suggests it is easier to run as the underdog in a contest that focuses on individuals.
Barack Obama came from behind to beat the favourite, Hillary Clinton, to the Democrat Presidential nomination. David Cameron wasn’t given much of a chance against David Davis for the Conservative leadership. And as for Ed Miliband… well, David Miliband is still in New York so we all know how that one ended.
Although the conditions might be more advantageous, it requires a smart campaign to fully exploit the position of unfancied outsider.
In the Labour leadership contest, Jeremy Corbyn is showing the others, and especially Liz Kendall, how it is done.
Corbyn’s campaign knew it was starting from behind but they haven’t tried to rally well-known figures to his banner. The sight of the other candidates trawling Labour names past and present, desperate for endorsements, has made Corbyn look like a man ready to run on his own record.
He has gained outside support – from the unions and the usual left-wing comedians and polemicists – but he hasn’t courted them, and so has retained the air of independence.
In stark contrast to the other candidates Corbyn barely ever mentions the Tories. Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham moan incessantly about the Government as if it is a sufficient qualification for leading the Labour Party. The Corbyn campaign has been smarter; choosing to talk about ideas and ambitions, rather than simple opposition politics.
Corbyn has also been clever to use current events to stake out his position on key issues. He was quick to spot the possibilities offered by the Greek crisis and use them as a persuasive left-wing critique of austerity.
I thought I’d seen the first signs of danger for his campaign last weekend when The Guardian started to question his anti-EU positioning. But once again, Corbyn has reacted swiftly and smartly today to close down that line of attack, with a clarification that will soothe fears while retaining room to bash Brussels’ debt collectors.
As befits his image as a quiet, thoughtful politician, Corbyn has successfully stayed above the fray. While the other candidates debate whether he should even be in the race, he has focused on issues and his ability to enthuse young Labour supporters. Burnham’s weak claim to be outside the political bubble crumbles in contrast with Corbyn’s refusal to be drawn on his own fitness for office.
After a bruising and humbling defeat, the race to be the next Labour leader was always likely to be won by the person who could best present themselves as the ‘change’ candidate.
Burnham and Cooper’s refusal to move on from the Miliband era has seen them characterised as dour and dull. Kendall hasn’t been able to talk about change in a positive manner that has inspired the ranks.
It really is no surprise that Corbyn is the name at the top of the polls.
Dylan Sharpe is the head of PR for The Sun