Jeremy Corbyn
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in LondonNeil Hall/ Reuters

Resilience is one of the most important, and all too often overlooked, qualities in politics. It is not just about endurance, important though that it is. It is about what you do with the setbacks and failures that are part of political life.

I was reminded of this when belatedly catching up with the BBC series on Barack Obama's White House, and was moved by the episode where he went to console campaigners who had just seen a cause lost in the political mess that is the American Congress. He talked about the arc of history that Martin Luther King had talked about. He told them that as long as they kept campaigning and fighting, the arc of history would bend in their favour.

Monica Lewinsky Bill Clinton
Hillary Clinton had to remain resilient during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.Reuters

Obama is of course a reference point on a racial arc of history that stretches via Martin Luther King all the way back to one of America's most resilient presidents, Abraham Lincoln, whose image kept popping up in the series in paintings and statuettes and who had played a pivotal role in ending slavery.

I thought of resilience too when watching Bill Clinton set out for the Democrat Convention why he believed his wife is the best choice as America's next president. He is of course a biased source, but in telling their shared life story he did a good job of showing that she too has the R quality in spades.

She had to have it during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when the whole world was gorging on her husband's sexual misdemeanours. I saw them several times during that period, in several countries, and it was pretty painful. Embarrassing and difficult for him. Humiliating and awful for her.

When I interviewed him about it a few years later he said the moment when he decided to wake her up and tell her the truth that he had been denying to her and the American people – that he did indeed 'have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky' – was one of the hardest moments of his life.

Those who see the Clintons as nothing more than careerist politicians will assume she stood by him because the political interest was always more important than the personal. But in truth they were a loving couple working through difficulties they had wrestled with for a long time. The only difference with most other couples who do that is that they were one of the most scrutinised pairings in the world.

They still are. They are still close and loving. They are still motivated by the power of politics to change the world for the better, shaping the arc of history in a better direction. Hillary Clinton has shown personal resilience and she has shown political resilience aplenty. Losing to Barack Obama for the nomination eight years ago was a big blow. But she kept going.

She doesn't have her husband's mesmeric charisma. She doesn't have the beauty in her voice that Obama does. She will be hard pushed to wow the crowd in the way that Michelle Obama did. But when you cut through the message of Bill Clinton's speech about her, what she does have is real resilience, and the ability to get stuff done. Bill may be one of the greatest talkers US politics has ever known. But Hillary is one hell of a doer.

Bill may be one of the greatest talkers US politics has ever known. But Hillary is one hell of a doer.

As a firm and long-standing supporter of both of them, I really hope she wins. Most of the world hopes she wins against Donald Trump. But in these troubled times, and in this era of post-fact politics, nothing can be taken for granted. There are too many parallels with Brexit that keep popping into my mind. Trump playing fast and loose with fact and getting away with it. The demonising of experts and elites standing up for an incumbent. Trying to bat away emotional arguments with reason and fact. That last tactic ought to work in a healthy democratic race. But does any country have a healthy democracy these days?

So Hillary is going to need to call on all those reserves of resilience over the coming months. And the world is going to have to hold its nerve.

Clinton Trump
Hillary Clinton, Donald TrumpGetty Images

Back on this side of the Atlantic, where does the Resilience issue fit in? Theresa May, thus far, seems to have had a fairly gilded rise. Most home secretaries are scarred by setback, scandal, failure. She avoided the usual dose of all that and it is one of the reasons she came through the middle to become the post-Brexit referendum PM.

David Davis and Liam Fox have shown resilience. They can't really have imagined they would be in the Cabinet within weeks of the vote. I shared a TV studio with Fox in the early hours of 24 June. We had both thought the result was going the way it went. But I honestly did not detect a scintilla of a suggestion that he might become centrally involved in the aftermath, even if he had had a meeting with David Cameron to urge him to stay if he lost the vote.

Those who lost the vote and still believe it was the wrong decision – we are going to have to show resilience too. Accept the result, yes. But remain very vigilant as the consequences are played out. Theresa May says 'Brexit means Brexit'. But what does 'Brexit means Brexit' mean? There is a long long way to go to find out. Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon will be an important part of that debate. So will Martin McGuinness in Northern Ireland. They have both shown resilience in very different ways down the years. Sturgeon was a serial election loser but she just kept going. McGuinness' resilience is perhaps more complicated, but he has it.

Now it would be unfair to write a piece about resilience without mentioning Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader has toiled for decades as a backbencher, fighting for often unfashionable causes. Then the political chips suddenly fell in a certain direction and he became, somewhat reluctantly, leader of the party. So he is resilient. He has also shown resilience in refusing to bow to the overwhelming view of the Parliamentary Labour Party – one that I share – that he cannot do the job and should make way for someone who might be able to.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama puts FBI in charge of responding to cyber threatsYuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images

So he shares the R quality with all of those I mention above. But there is something he doesn't share with the Clintons and the Obamas and the Tories. They have an obsession with winning power. Corbyn seems to have an aversion to it. He barely mentions it in his public statements. He has rebelled against government power most of his life.

His supporters prefer to talk about being a 'social movement' because that way they don't need to be troubled with the difficulties of actually winning elections so you can change laws and change the world. Social movements help to change the law and change the world. But they cannot make the changes alone.

There is something he doesn't share with the Clintons and the Obamas and the Tories. They have an obsession with winning power. Corbyn seems to have an aversion to it.

That understanding is what drove Bill Clinton to be the youngest governor in history to be elected and defeated and then win again. It is what drove Obama to reach a place that even when growing up he could never have imagined was possible for any African-American. The social movements helped him get there. But they were not enough to make all the changes he has managed to make, even with that barely manageable Congress. And it is the same understanding that makes Hillary Clinton want to fight Trump to win, so she can keep bending the arc in the right direction, not the wrong direction. You need power. To get it you have to want it and fight for it.

Right now Jeremy Corbyn is showing real resilience. But he is showing it in terms of hanging on to his job as Labour leader so he can lead his social movement. He is showing nothing that indicates he has worked out how to win the country beyond those who are his natural supporters. If you are Democrat or Republican, Labour or Tory, you have to be obsessed with winning power. Resilience without the obsession about winning becomes a particularly vain form of political life, and cruel if the consequence is years and years of unchallenged Tory rule, and Trump in the White House.

It will take more than a social movement to stop Trump. It will take Hillary Clinton fighting for it like her life depends on it. Because so many other lives do too.

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Oh, and while we are on the subject of resilience, I was amused to see that just as I was posting an 'I'm still standing' resilience video about my hate-hate relationship with the Daily Mail last week, Sky's The Pledge had a little fun with the same Elton John song applied to Jeremy Corbyn. You can enjoy them both here and here. I think mine is funnier. But he is definitely still Leader of the Labour Party, which is somewhat more important!


Alastair Campbell is a British strategist and writer, best known for his work as Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1994 and 2003. He is the author of eleven books, the latest of which, Winners And How They Succeed, was a Number One bestseller. He is Ambassador for mental health campaign Time to Change.