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There are big egos as well as smiles behind Jeremy and Gerry's beards as they rule their parties with iron fists

By Lindy McDowell

Published 21/09/2016

Tight grip: Jeremy Corbyn aims to retain the Labour leadership
Tight grip: Jeremy Corbyn aims to retain the Labour leadership

Has Jeremy Corbyn been taking career advice from his old friend and fellow beard Gerry Adams? Corbyn, who is standing for re-election as Labour leader this week, is generally regarded as a shoo-in, although in Brexit Britain a shock result, as we know, is always a possibility.

In his 2015 campaign to be elected party boss, Jezza only appeared on the card because it was felt important to nominate a member of the hard Left to give voters as wide a choice as possible.

That battle spawned what could best be described as the Cult of Corbyn.

From being regarded as a no-hoper, Jeremy - recast as kindly man-of-the-people - romped it. He had Momentum. He even had the backing of Charlotte Church.

Sadly for Jezza, he didn't actually have the support of his own MPs. After the Brexit referendum, during which he'd been accused of not doing enough to bolster Remain, more than three-quarters of Labour MPs - 172 of them, no less - passed a no confidence vote in him.

His shadow cabinet resigned, almost en masse. But defiantly Corbo hung on in there. Now facing Owen Smith in the leadership contest, he seems confident of victory. Like a Four Top he talks about how, once elected, he intends to "reach out" to those Labour MPs who oppose him.

It would be fair to say that Gerry Adams has not encountered (publicly anyway) anything like the same revolt among his party's elected representatives. But in terms of style - personal as well as party management - there are similarities.

Not just the beards, but also the dress sense. Gerry and Jezza both go for statement dressing designed to send the right message to their audience.

For middle-class, anti-Establishment Corbyn, it's the distressed lecturer look in tieless shirt and a cream jacket that could have come from Mike Nesbitt's summer suit.

Adams, once also an adherent of open-necked chic, has spruced up his wardrobe considerably in recent years to match his "statesman" aspirations.

Although in his outreach to Irish-Americans, he's still been known to don that Irish equivalent of the hair shirt, the Aran jumper.

And, despite an iron-fist approach to party management, both men also deliberately cultivate an image of themselves as sweet-natured, caring, even whimsical, souls.

True, Corbyn hasn't quite reached the stage of tweeting about his teddies. But he has been on Mumsnet this week. (Would support a ban on sugar, but likes a shortbread biscuit).

Given that this is a man who has presided over a period of the most brutal, abusive and fractious party in-fighting, we can take his "sweet-natured" side with a pinch of aspartame.

More shockingly, Corbyn's leadership has tolerated, if not encouraged, a despicable and alarming rise in anti-Semitism. Maybe there are some in the party who calculate that this might be a vote winner. But, in 2016, it is a stain and a shame upon the reputation of the Labour Party. The far Left donning the shirts of the far Right.

How politicians really are and how they portray themselves to us, the electorate, are, of course, very often, very different things.

The era of spin certainly did not end with Tony Blair (as this week's appointment chez Stormont reminds us).

Thanks to Cult of Corbyn hype, Momentum support and mass rallies, the Labour Party now appears to have acquired its very own Dear Leader.

And Corbyn, contrary to the image he peddles of himself as gentle Jezza, meek and mild, who was forced into the leadership role, aims to cling on to power as tenaciously as Kim Kardashian to her selfie stick.

Success in personality politics requires enormous ego. Another thing Jezza and Gerry have in common. Neither suffers a deficit there.

Flagging up one sure-fire business winner

The cross-community lamp-post sharing!

In the upper Ormeau Road area of Belfast, poles have been adorned for some months now with Union and Ulster flags.

But in recent days a new flag has joined them — in the colours of a local GAA club. They flap away together harmoniously.

It raises a question that always occurs to me, given our enthusiasm on all sides here for flag-waving.

How come Invest NI never thought of starting up a local flag factory? It would never go out of business.

Poor PR to pursue big-hearted Katie for fee

Evidence that no good deed goes unpunished ... Katie Cutler, the big-hearted girl who raised more than £300,000 for disabled man, Alan Barnes, after he’d been attacked by a yob has now been hit by a bill for £7,000 from a PR woman who demands she pay up. Or else. Alan has chipped in a tenner to help. Understandably some feel he could have managed more. But the real loser in all this is surely the PR lady.

Whatever her arrangement with Katie, publicly chasing up a debt from a national treasure is not exactly clever PR.

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