Monday, 25 July 2016
Which "Leader of the (Labour) pack?"
Members of Parliament naturally think they are very important and deserving people. They have worked hard to gain their parties' selection for one of the 80% of seats that are "safe", or to win and retain one of the marginals. Until recently both Labour and Conservative MPs had the exclusive right to determine who would be their Leader - who would, if and when the party gained a majority, become prime minister and dole out the plum jobs of government.
MPs feel themselves at the very centre of the political maelstrom. They make and listen to speeches in the Commons Chamber, they get invited, presumably for a fee, to appear in or write for the media; and serve on committees which can grill government departments on their activities. They vote to make or change our laws, though on the whole according to the strict instructions of their party managers.
It is an accepted part of our unwritten and sometimes vague constitution that the Queen must choose as her prime minister the person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. In the bad old days when the choice of this person was solely a matter for the MPs there was little prospect of dissent about who should be called. There might have been in the Tory party because their leader "emerged" as a result of result of "soundings" by senior party figures rather than a vote of MPs, but Tories have a thirst for power and know to do as they're told rather than rock the boat.
The Labour Party's current problem arises because the choice of leader is now open to the party membership rather than just the MPs, and 80% of the MPs have, in my view shamefully, voted to say they have no confidence in the Jeremy Corbyn, the leader the members have chosen (overwhelmingly, by just short of 60% of the vote - the nearest challenger, Andy Burnham, received only 19% of the vote.)
Frankly, if I were a Labour Party member I would rejoice to have a leader who can not only command such support from existing party members, but can also inspire people to come forward in droves to join the party and participate in the political process.
Labour's MPs appear to have two criticisms of Corbyn: that he is a poor organiser and is unelectable.
Being a poor organiser, if true, should be no problem -just appoint a competent chief of staff. There should be plenty around.
I fail to understand why they think he is unelectable, though it is true that even the sympathetic media go along with this. Yet the facts suggest quite the opposite.
No one in on the British political scene, not Theresa May, not David Cameron, not Boris Johnson, not Nick Clegg, (though we did have a brief period of Cleggmania)and certainly not David Miliband, has persuaded hundreds of thousands to flock to join a political party. And, if you prefer to count hard votes, Labour has won every parliamentary by-election, mostly with increased majorities, along with the London mayoralty, since Corbyn became leader. And the predicted meltdown in this year's s local government elections, which followed a previous exceptionally good year, simply did not happen.
In short, the party under his leadership is a winner.
Let us consider for a moment the alternative possibility - that Labour's membership is persuaded to choose another leader.
The present contender, Owen Smith, is relatively unknown. Maybe he will prove to have Corbyn-like charisma. But the omens are not good. His "hinterland" is typical of of the career politicians whose limited experience is coming so much into question: producer in the media, special adviser (Spad) for a Labour government minister, lobbyist for one drug company, in charge for "corporate affairs" for another with a tarnished reputation for "pursuing profits at the risk of patient safely."
I strongly suspect that, if he wins, although Labour's parliamentary party may be cheered up and continue busily to "hold the government to account," the Labour Party outside parliament will flat-line while the Tories, buoyed up by their media mates, continue with what they see as their God-given right to rule for another couple of decades.
It is absolutely extraordinary that, after a self-engineered calamity which has been compared to the worst political debacle since Lord North lost the American colonies over a row about the tax on tea, the Tories should have successfully regrouped whilst the leading members of largest opposition party fight each other like rats in a sack.
Mr Corbyn is the breath of fresh-air that could change things. Our hope for the immediate future is that, after his re-election his MPs will recognise the need to work with him and he and they will recognise the need to work with other progressive parties (Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and, yes, the SNP and perhaps the other nationalists) to create the rainbow coalition necessary to begin the repair of our battered society