Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is divided, it lacks clear direction, and it is fundamentally failing to deliver effective opposition to a Conservative Party far from full strength. With each passing week, the Labour Party is facing the increased risk of electoral oblivion.
Over the past seven days, the focus of politicians and commentators has understandably been on the attacks in Paris. Yet the subsequent attention on matters of national defence has highlighted Corbyn’s inability to offer real-world solutions to profound problems. This has been shown by his inconsistent stance on ‘shoot to kill’, as well as his conduct in a recent PLP meeting, which led one Labour MP to brand Corbyn “a f***ing disgrace”. A political party cannot be elected without being trusted on national security. Indeed, in the words of Chuka Umunna, it is “a disqualification from office” if you cannot keep the public safe. Corbyn acts like an idealistic student protester, rather than the leader of a major political party. It is easy to understand why the Parliamentary Labour Party is so frustrated.
Corbyn’s suggestion that he was “not happy with the shoot-to-kill policy in general” has drawn media attention over the past week. Corbyn misjudged the tone and timing of his statement – failing to reflect the mood of the public. Whilst he did later attempt to ‘clarify’ his position, the inconsistency of Corbyn’s message, on such an important issue, at such an important time, was nothing short of farcical.
Following some similarly weak and mistimed comments from Kinnock in 1987 on UK defence policy with regard to the Soviet Union, Thatcher went on the political offensive, branding Labour as “soft on defence”. It is interesting that Cameron hasn’t followed Thatcher’s ruthless example – the PM only dedicated one punchline to the issue at PMQs. Perhaps he is actively trying to avoid delivering any potentially fatal blows in an effort to keep Jeremy around for longer.
On the topic of potentially fatal blows, on Thursday Corbyn appointed Ken Livingston – an ardent anti-Trident campaigner – to co-chair the Labour Trident review, without informing Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Maria Eagle. This appointment has already been derided by Maria Eagle and numerous other Labour MPs. Moreover, to make matters worse, Livingstone launched a brutal personal attack on the mental health record of Labour MP Kevan Jones. Jones merely expressed understandable (given Ken’s lack of experience in the field) concern over Livingstone’s appointment. Ken then refused to apologise amidst widespread uproar over his insensitive comments, backtracked, issued a weak apology, and then undermined this apology during a TV interview on BBC Newsnight (during which he branded Eagle as “silly”).
David Blunkett has also spoken out against Livingstone’s questionable appointment. Thus, it is surely only a matter of time before Ken reposts with: “He is blind to the facts and obviously cannot see what is going on here”. This whole debacle shows that Livingstone is wholly unsuitable for a position which demands sensitivity and maturity to quell cross-party antagonism.
I cannot recall a period in my lifetime when Labour Party division has been more concerning than it is now. This week’s PMQs was conducted in front of a silent and eerily unenthusiastic opposition bench – epitomising the dire situation of the party.
Indeed, the following exchange between Labour MP John Mann and Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics, which would not be out of place in an episode of The Thick of It, spoke volumes:
Andrew Neil: “Given Labour’s response to the issue of national security and Syria, do you have confidence in Jeremy Corbyn?”
John Mann: “I have total confidence in Hilary Benn.”
Andrew Neil: “So you have confidence in your foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn, but not in your leader Jeremy Corbyn?”
John Mann: “Jeremy has confidence in Hilary as well.”
Andrew Neil: “But you can’t bring yourself to say you have confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.”
John Mann: “I have huge confidence in Jeremy allowing Hilary to lead on Syria.”
Every single poll conducted since Corbyn’s election as leader has put Labour firmly behind the Conservatives. Given that the Tories have used their first few months in power to cruelly target the working poor and junior doctors, this is a damning indictment of Labour’s new leader. Perhaps over time, as the polls spread further panic within the PLP, a significant number of those who voted for Corbyn will start to question their decision. Even the Guardian comments section, once a hive of pro-Corbyn sentiment, has become noticeably more critical and frustrated with the Labour leadership of late. Yet, due to the large mandate Corbyn received from members, it is hard to see him departing anytime soon, regardless of PLP rebellions. Perhaps we should wait for him to fall, rather than pushing him over.