Saturday 28 December 2019
It is now a given of UK politics that whoever Labour elects as its leader, he or she will be scorned, derided, misrepresented, mocked and denigrated by the 80% of our press that supports the Tories.
In my own adult lifetime Harold Wilson was patronised for having been a King's Scout, liking HP sauce and apparently decorating a wall inside No 10 with a flight of pottery ducks. Michael Foot was ridiculed for wearing a reefer jacket (rather than a morning coat) at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. Neil Kinnock was routinely derided as a "Welsh Windbag." Ed Milliband was pilloried for having a Marxist father and inelegantly eating bacon sandwich (hint, hint, he's actually Jewish so should not be eating bacon). *
First prize for having opprobrium dumped on him must go to poor Jeremy Corbyn for having a beard, working an allotment, talking to Irish Terrorists (as did negotiators on behalf of Mrs Thatcher) and whose views on the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians were routinely distorted as being Anti-Semitic.
And the muck stuck.
Whatever conclusions the Labour Party reaches in its inquiries into their defeat, there can be no doubt that the "unsuitability, " to put it mildly, of Mr Corbyn as prime minister will be top of the bill.
Yet the flaws in the character, actions and opinions of Mr Johnson, which make him completely unfit to be prime minister, were somehow brushed aside or ignored, even though they were publicly identified by leading members of his own party.
If their main priority was to retain power, as opposed to the good of the country, Troy MPs in the last parliament were right to put Johnson on the slate for election as their leader. Whatever his flaws he had "electability" and had proved it in twice winning the Mayoralty of London, normally a Labour-leaning city, and in maintaining a 10 point lead it the opinion polls.
In the four years he has been Labour leader I have tended to admire Mr Corbyn as an honest and decent man who on issues from the Iraq war to the rights of the Chagos Islanders has been usually right. True he does not seem to have been much good as a party manager or resolver of internal disputes,but I did not expect the electorate to swallow the poison poured on him to the extent that they did.
However, it now seems that the Labour MPs of the last parliament were right. What I saw then as an unhelpful stab in the back was in fact a realisation that he made the party unelectable and so they tried to get rid of him.
Which leads me, reluctantly, to the conclusion that we maybe need to go backwards, take away the right of party members to choose the leaders, and return it to the MPs.
Whether there is in the ranks of current Labour MPs anyone with a background so saintly as to be impervious to right wing bile I doubt, but from the outside Keir Starmer seems a good bet. I'm also intrigued by the possibility of David Lammy, I think the only MP outside my own constituency and party to whom I've ever written (urging him to take on the leadership of the Remain campaign - sadly he didn't bite.)
*Tony Blair seems to have escaped, and Liberal Democrat leaders don't attract such a high profile, though in the brief period of Cleggmania in 2010 the Daily Mail was quick to point our that he had a Russian grandparent,and, not only that, was married to a foreigner!