It is not an artful photograph but the image is all the more potent for its simplicity. In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, Jeremy Corbyn visited the survivors and was pictured hugging a man in a red baseball cap. Corbyn clasps the man tight, eyes closed; there is a sincerity there, a concern for human suffering that transcends the politics of photo ops.
The informality is subtly striking. Twenty years on from the Diana moment, public expressions of grief are commonplace, but the embrace of an apparent stranger and the unselfconscious intimacy between men from more reserved times carries special meaning.
The fact that the man is Mushtaq Lasharie, a former Labour councillor in the area and perhaps known to Corbyn before the day in question, does not diminish the impact. The message is clear: Corbyn cares.
Theresa May cares too but the Prime Minister’s instinct was to rush instead to the emergency services – the firefighters who fought to save desperate souls trapped by the flames and the police managing the site of Britain’s deadliest disaster in generations. It was an act of no less sincerity but it failed to capture the public mood and the importance of touch.
Touch matters. It tells those struck by catastrophe and the millions watching that you care. You may be a prime minister or a president but you are not remote from the struggles of those on the bottom rung. Corbyn’s hug touched the public in a way that the most eloquent speech never could. In an age of fleeting images and rolling timelines, it made us stop and take notice.
Corbyn is not the first leader to appreciate the value of physical contact. Touch is central to the ministry of Pope Francis.
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