Mind your language

Why would Jeremy Corbyn want to be credible when he can be incredible?

The favourite compliment of Labour leadership candidates is a grudging sort of praise at best

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

In a wonderfully dry manual of theology on my husband’s bookshelves, written in Latin and printed in Naples in the 1830s, there is a discussion of whether ‘rustics and idiots’ are supported in their belief by ‘motives of credibility’, such as miracles. The same question has been asked about belief in Jeremy Corbyn, except that the city stands in for the country, and the idiots are often useful ones.

‘I am the only candidate who can offer a bold but credible vision,’ Andy Burnham has said. ‘I’ll have the confidence to reject Tory myths and the credibility to demolish them,’ countered Yvette Cooper. John Curtice, the political scientist, noticed that Labour MPs think Mr Corbyn’s ‘economic policy is not credible’. But credibility should be applicable to candidates as well as their policies. This double application of credible, to men and to evidence, is no new discovery of politics; in the 15th century, both meanings were used in their letters by members of the Paston family.


Even so, to be credible is a grudging sort of recognition: a hurdle to be surmounted. More inspiring is to be incredible. Jeff Brazier, the widower of Jade Goody, spoke recently about the present woman in his life: ‘I think she’ll be an incredible mum; she’s already showing signs of being an incredible stepmum.’ Rachel Treweek, the first woman diocesan bishop, as the new Bishop of Gloucester, said it was an ‘incredible feeling’ to be consecrated.

This ‘hoorah’ term has been knocking around for some time. The famous but unknown Monk of Evesham, who wrote a travel book about Purgatory more than 100 years before Dante, mentions at one point an ‘incredibulle swetenes of ioyfull conforte’. He did believe it, but he wouldn’t have believed it before he smelt it.

One more meaning of credible has lurked in the thickets of its history, and that is ‘credulous’. Even though grammarians since the 19th century have been denouncing this meaning as a blunder, it has hung on. Poor old Norman St John Stevas remarked 30 years ago: ‘I’m afraid people are credible and gullible. This is one of the results of original sin.’ Perhaps so. Certainly what seems credible to voters is sometimes simply incredible.

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  • Melon_master

    ….The insightful and thought provoking analysis needed to point out that “incredible” can be a better quality than “credible”. Really.

  • Jeremy Corbyn’s policies have been endorsed by Paul Krugman and Joesph Stieglitz. Both of whom have a Nobel Prize in economics.

    That should be enough credibility for anyone.

    There are aspects of these policies which anyone would agree are potentially risky. Particularly the idea of PQE which involves an exchange of bonds and cash between the BoE and the Treasury. It’s not a particularly new idea though. When the banks needed £375 billion to be created this way, to bail them out, I don’t remember anyone saying the policy lacked credibility then!

    A future Labour government would need to be much more cautious. I’d suggest maybe a tenth of this amount in £5 billion or £10 billion packages. If and when inflation proved to be a problem we should of course back off.

    • Flintshire Ian

      Most academic economists would be more accurate in their predictions using a crystal ball borrowed from a fairground Gypsy Rose. And with luck if JC is elected, there will never be another Labour government, so we will not have to find out just how bad Jezza’s ideas were in practice.

      • mark

        Drink more of your Tory whiskey because your comments are coming from a right wing fool drunk on Tory policies, ignorance is bliss in your world i bet!

        • Jaria1

          You would be in the best position to know

      • I’d direct you to my discussion with Jaria1, above.

        You could be right and we won’t ever have another Labour government. We’ll see. However, the important thing for any government is to have a correct understanding of how our economy works. We don’t at present.

        It’s not that hard though. We need to get away from the ‘government = a household’ model. We just need some lateral thinking!

    • Jaria1

      Why should it be good enough , you are not barred from winning a nobel prize for economics because of your political preferences.
      The most accurate reference to economists is the best way to get ten different opinions is to put ten economists into a room.
      I remain convinced that Corbyns economics mixed with his other policies goes in opposite directions to those of thevrest of the world and conclude that for them to work the rest of thevworld would have to change its view. It wont and seemingly the flow of capital out of this country hasnt been taken into account.
      This country at the moment has clawed its way up to the top of the economic league . Why should we take the risk of changing course to experiment to Corbyns left wing solutions they have always failed in the past.
      Labour surveys tell us that the left wings optimistic hope that they will determine the future of this country is about as plausible.
      They tell us that they put principle before winning an election. Onevwould seem to cancel the other out! It does however show their cock eyed thinking.

      • mark

        Rubbish! Hope for the best and keep the staus quo syndrome!

        • Jaria1

          English your first language?
          Show me where I advocate the status quo syndrome.
          Clearly you havnt or have had difficulty in reading my posts.
          Labour has performed absymally and insults the party by offering it those front benchers except Liz who were part of Milibands team.
          The status quo being the Unions choice of candidate as like like last time when they flooded their own people to get their choice of candidate.
          The status quo would refer to that as Miliband offered the same electoral process that this time enabled the, once again to get their man in!
          In fact after about six months you will be pining for Blair to come and rescue the party.
          What you ask for is not worth the price it will cost to prove that you let your sentiment rule your head. Just remember who will have to pay the price.

      • Jaria1,

        It’s a fair point that no matter what our politics, we can probably find a Nobel Laureate in economics to agree with them.

        So, we are on our own to a large extent. I’m a scientist/engineer rather an economist and what puzzles me is the lack of awareness of the scientific method shown by the mainstream economics profession. ie those employed by the IMF etc.The construction of the eurozone is a good example. It’s supposed to work, according to their theories and carefully constructed computer models, but clearly it doesn’t.

        But instead of going back to the drawing board, and recalibrating their theories against observations, we just get more of the same prescription of cuts and austerity for the economic sickness the failed system has brought.

        It’s the same story with the GFC. That’s been politicised to fit in with the we-need-more-austerity message. But do we? In scientific terms, do the observations support the theory on that point? If they don’t why are we throwing out the data rather than the theory?

        • Jaria1

          Interesting Peter Martin . The problem I havevis that I have seen no viable alltrrnative to cutting our outgoings to bring down our debts.
          Those that tell us there is are fooling us into believing theres an easier way of paying our debts other than cutting our outgoings.
          Ive seen what the Socialist oppositio offers and experience tells me that as usual they will make matters farvworse.
          They read out some of Corbyns policies tonight, how on earth do people feel able to support him. Two benficiaries immiediately comes to light , they are the left wing Unions and we are to desert our allies and side with zputins Russia.
          Can sane people pssibly endorse those policies?

          • Jaria1,

            I have to say I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn has it quite right either but he’s at least asking the right questions and pushing in the right direction.

            The key stumbling block (IMO) is over the nature of government debt and whether, and under what circumstances, we should aim to “bring down our debts”.

            If we consider the creation of a currency from scratch – say for example the Greek Government decided to reintroduce its own currency – the New Drachma – how would that work?

            To start with no-one would have any assets or liabilities in the ND. It simply doesn’t exist. That all changes the moment the Greek government starts to spend in ND and tax in ND. If it spends ND 2 billion and taxes ND 1 billion then straightaway the Greek government has to be in debt to the tune of ND1 billion. Everyone else ends up with financial assets of ND 1 billion too.

            So a sovereign currency issuing government has to be in debt (in its own currency) for anyone else to have real financial assets. So “bringing down our debts” is also “bringing down our assets” in financial terms.

            That may be a good thing to do, if the economy is running too hot and we want to reign-in inflation, but is that really such a good thing right now?

          • Jaria1

            To be quite honest Peter Martin my mind isnt running along those lines at all.,
            Not saying you are wrong but have and am unlikely to think that way.
            You would have heard Corbyns ideas which would stop any financial improvement in its tracks.
            Finance is very flighty and some of Corbyns ideas would result in capital and investments leaving the UK at a great speed. It wouldnt be talk about reduction of debts but massive increases at ever increasing interest rates. He speaks of massive financial easing programmes which Yvette Cooper said would only make matters worse at this stage of our Financial cycle.
            That the Uk should abandon its old allies and move towards Moscow is surely unthinkable.
            Of course it would alienate our traditional allies and place us in a completely vulnerable position.
            His agenda is a Corbyn agenda and its not designed in our interests but in Corbyns

          • Are you still saying “bring down our {public} debts”? I thought you were. But maybe I misunderstood. Private debts are real debts and do have to be repaid. Public debts never have to be repaid – they are just rolled over.

            Private debt cycles lead to booms and busts as well as higher inflation -particularly in asset prices. Public debt can, if overdone, lead to higher levels of inflation. That’s all. It more like an issuing of money than anything else.

            There’s no need to worry about “capital flight.” Foreign owners of pounds put their money into the UK – buying gilts. If they sell them they get back their pounds. What are they going to do with them? Spend them on Scotch whisky? Fine if they want to do that.

            They can exchange them for other currencies if they wish which would force the pound down. That would be good for exports. Mrs Thatcher’s government let the speculators have their way with the £ in the early 80’s when they forced it down to almost parity with the dollar. Life went on! It was the speculators who lost out then.That was a much smarter move than calling in the IMF which is what the Callaghan govt is remembered for.

            The govt just has to do the right thing by keeping the economy working as close to full capacity as is possible without letting inflation become a problem. It can set interest rates to whatever level it likes – both in the short and long term. The govt holds nearly all the cards. It’s the speculators who are bluffing. If they do just call them out!

          • Jaria1

            Doesnt matter which debt , in our case the amount of interest we pay on our debts amounts to more than some of ouf the budget for public services. This of course is exacerbated when for reasons unfathomable to me Brown racked up the vastly more expensive PFI money. Maybe its because its not shown up as a debt and is off book.Interest rates are at a historical low and with our amount of debt any increase would hurt a lot.
            The last week or so has shown huge capital flight from the FTSE and thats mostly foreign money. I think reduction in the strength of the currency has a huge impact on our trade, we are not an exporting country . No one can compete with the East. However it would certainly affect the cost of our imports and many other things to have such a low value currency more than for a short period.
            There are plenty of world wide investments and we are attracting moneies through our stability, something money and investors appreciate. This will disappear if we drop our present political friends and allies to pal up with Russias Putin.
            Well Corbyn is promising to do just that and more it must be comforting for you to think a Corbyn led gvt or even in a powerful position as leader of the opposition must horrify our friends and delight our enemies, those in doubt should observe what Hollande is doing to France and hes a moderate compared with Union backed Corbyn..
            Corbyns strong point if you can call it as such is to undermine the power of the executive which has grown far too powerful. I think the days of Blair showed that.
            If unwittingly he is responsible for more mower to MPs which if the Labour party have any balls he might do then his presence hopefully fleetingly might have been worthwhile

    • mark

      i agree with your points to a degree Peter, but what about the slash and burn politics of the Tories, at the end of 2019 there will be more than enough of society to rebuild for a Corbyn led Labour party after the relentless cuts of the Tories, irrespective of a so called mythical Tory surplus!

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