Corbyn, the other bloke, and the Labour Party

29 Aug

A sign of a healthy polity is space for opposition, critique and dissent. That space is there in the UK – but it is currently unoccupied. The Labour Party – what should be the main opposition party according to the number of seats it has in parliament – is pre-occupied with its own leadership contest and so is unable to provide meaningful opposition.

And meaningful opposition is required. The current UK government is led by someone who is un-elected as leader of her political party and un-elected as Prime Minister – thus raising real questions of democracy. Moreover, on all sorts of measures (social mobility, class sizes, poverty, inequality, prisons) this is a government of failure. And then there is the small matter of Brexit – an issue on which the government has no strategy (and, as is becoming clear, engaged in zero forward planning). So the need for a credible opposition that can hold government to account and scrutinise legislation is urgent.

Rather than providing opposition the Labour Party is engaged in civil war over who can be the leader. The current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is an old style leftist with an energised activist support base but virtually no support from his fellow MPs (and patchy support in the rest of the country). His opponent in the latest leadership contest is someone forgettable. If I thought long and hard enough I could dredge up his name. And that is the point. The Labour Party, as an institution, has failed if it cannot come up with three or four credible alternative leaders. This is very telling about the nature of the Labour Party (and perhaps other parties too). It tells us a lot about selection procedures, the calibre of members and candidates it attracts, and the internal disciplinary mechanics of the Party.

If the Labour Party, or any other political party, was a healthy organisation, then it would be packed with bright, energetic people with charisma who could offer credible leadership alternatives. Instead, it seems to be full of people who are utterly forgettable and shallow. Where are the other alternative leaders? So, for me, the issue isn’t about Corbyn versus the other bloke whose name I forget, but about the fundamental derogation of duty by those in the ‘leadership’ of the Labour Party for the past decade or so. They have nurtured an organisation full of people with the backbones of jellyfish (I don’t think I am being overly harsh here).

In the absence of an effective opposition a Tory government with a slim majority (only 12) is able to act as though it has a majority of 212. If I am allowed to offer advice (and it is my blog) then I think an honest assessment is that Jeremy Corbyn (although a thoroughly decent man whose policy ideas are about peace, justice, sharing and community) is never going to appeal to middle England (a fundamentally selfish and conservative constituency). There are simply not enough people out there swayed by the Corbyn offer. Yet, there are not enough people who will be swayed by that chap whose name I forget (Is it Robert Owen or something like that?). Shame on all those self-satisfied – and now retired on hugely generous pensions – Labour politicians who failed to put down the roots for an effective opposition. This is the real toxic legacy of Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Straw, Beckett etc.

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