Corbyn’s drubbing illustrates the collapse of opposition in Britain

Published by The Daily Telegraph (25th January, 2017)

The goal could hardly have been more open. Theresa May came to the despatch box having lost a landmark court case on the central issue confronting her government, then forced to reveal a climbdown in face of rumblings of revolt by agreeing to a white paper on Brexit. Yet still the khaki-clad Labour leader managed to end up licking deep wounds of defeat after another pathetic performance at prime ministers questions.

It was almost embarrassing to witness such a shambolic display. May pulled off a classic parliamentary ambush by revealing the white paper at the start of the weekly Westminster joust. But the move, if not the timing, surprised few insiders. And Jeremy Corbyn stumbled badly. His sole achievement was to extract quite such humiliating defeat from the jaws of looming victory, a feat that takes significant ineptitude.

May is not the most magnetic politician. But she wiped the floor with her floundering opponent, who was reduced to repeating accusations she was threatening to turn Britain into a “bargain basement tax haven”. Blasting Labour for being all over the place on Brexit struck home because the charge is so true.  Corbyn made a terrible gaffe over a shot policeman, claiming the injured officer had died. Then up popped his predecessor to ask a question on climate change – and the man who struggled to munch on a bacon sandwich seemed so substantial compared with the outdated socialist crusader who succeeded him (not least when many of his policies have been purloined by the government).

Yet for all the mockery, this matters. One key reason Remain lost last year’s referendum on Europe was Corbyn’s feeble leadership and shameful ambivalence over Britain’s role on the global stage. Now the Labour leader’s failure to find a settled, sustainable position on the dominant issues in modern politics such as Brexit and immigration leaves the nation without functioning opposition. Yet democracy thrives on debate, government decisions need to be tested and this is a time of immense national tumult.

Corbyn may have boosted party membership, attract sizeable crowds for speeches and enjoying posing for selfies with admiring young fans. But disastrous polls reflect reality: this third-rate politician will never become prime minister since the overwhelming mass of British voters are too sensible to entrust him with power. Meanwhile his party is disintegrating around him, failing to reconcile a liberal metropolitan wing with its traditional northern heartland. It has lost Scotland, is losing smart MPs and is letting down those seeking an alternative to rock-hard Brexit.

If Labour is to survive, its needs better than this bumbling bargain basement leader.  Strangely, it feels like former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has re-emerged as real leader of the opposition, since he offers the most assured challenge to May’s Brexit plans – not least since own successor does not command huge confidence. Perhaps this is the nature of politics in a sceptical age of populism and we are merely witnessing the break-up of our historic two-party system. Is it simply time for this party to be replaced by forces more in tune with the electorate?

But the decisions being taken now are so far-reaching on future generations that Britain desperately needs serious challenge to the government. Otherwise we are left with just judges, peers and a raucous press. And for all the failings of our political system, that does not necessarily lead to the best decisions, let alone the strongest economy and healthiest form of democracy.

Related Posts

Categorised in: ,