THE ONE-WOMAN SHOW

MayAs much as we all love it, rarely has the print media appeared more obsolete than in the past couple of weeks; it doesn’t need falling sales to put it out of business, merely a remarkably fast-moving political apocalypse of the kind this country is currently experiencing. ‘Breaking News’, a normally annoying phrase we’re accustomed to being a permanent fixture at the bottom of the screen of rolling news channels, has now become relevant to every bloody headline as the fallout from Brexit continues to claim scalps on what feels like an hourly basis. All of this would make a cracking edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ if we had any contemporary Rock n Roll to serve as the soundtrack to events.

With Angela Eagle confirming she will mount a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn over the weekend, this morning’s official announcement of that kamikaze gamble has already been usurped by the far more unexpected announcement by Andrea Leadsom that she has withdrawn from the race to become the next Tory Party leader and, consequently, Prime Minister. Apparently, off-the-record she hinted that press intrusion into both her private life and past working life motivated her decision, yet perhaps this itself is reflective of her lack of experience in the public eye. It does, as they say, come with the territory; and she simply wasn’t up to the job if her silly ‘mother’ comment was anything to go by.

So, this means there is no longer a contest. The prospect of May and Leadsom dragging all of this out for another couple of months while the nation is doing a good impression of the archetypal headless chicken sounded ridiculous on paper, and we must at least be grateful to Leadsom for bowing out even before she and her rival have embarked upon a tour of the Shires. One can only assume Dave’s summer as a lame-duck PM will be considerably shorter than he anticipated in the wake of this development, and I guess he and Sam will have to begin packing their belongings long before September; mind you, going by his past absent-mindedness, Theresa May could well move in and find she’s got a child after all.

Much has been made by May’s supporters that her six years at the Home Office somehow represent success, though how many years did ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ run on TV, masquerading as a sitcom despite the notable absence of laugh-out loud moments? Longevity does not necessarily equate with achievement; and Theresa May’s achievements as Home Secretary are fairly threadbare. Whereas Andrea Leadsom appeals to many of that dying breed of old-school, golf-club, Nimby ‘Margot and Jerry’ Tories, Theresa May is regarded as dangerously liberal within such circles; but, as with Labour’s hardcore lefty Corbynistas, they are a small cult faction forming a minor part of a far broader network, and can never truly represent their party as a whole, never mind the nation. Like it or not, Theresa May is more in tune with the wider electorate than Andrea Leadsom would have been on subjects other than Brexit; and it is the wider electorate beyond partisan party activists that win General Elections.

As if to underline the ultimate powerlessness of party memberships, Leadsom’s withdrawal means that the new Prime Minister has been elected by a few hundred Conservative MPs as opposed to the similarly limited albeit slightly higher 150,000 Conservative Party Members. Theresa May indicated from the moment she announced she was standing to be Tory leader that she had no plans to call an Election in the autumn; but history rarely favours Prime Ministers who supersede retiring PMs without the electorate being involved. Neville Chamberlain, Alec Douglas-Home, Jim Callaghan and Gordon Brown all came to power this way and all failed to win a General Election; poor old Chamberlain actually never got the chance to do so. Yes, both Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan did gain a mandate from the public – the former called an Election only a month after succeeding Churchill in 1955, whereas the latter waited just over two-and-a-half years before going to the country; but both were fortunate to be competing against a deeply divided Labour Party. Theresa May take note.

It is ironic in a week that has seen several MPs on both sides of the House calling for the head of Tony Blair on a plate that the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister David Cameron is facing no such demands. Watching him perform at his first post-Referendum PMQs, one would imagine he was a stand-up comic ala Michael McIntyre. There was nothing in his demeanour to suggest shame or regret at the absolute bloody mess he’s left the country in. If anyone should be held responsible for the current chaos, Dave is the man. All the fawning guff spewing forth from the mouths of Tory MPs concerning his six years at No.10 obscures the facts in a virtual whitewash of sanctimonious hyperbolic bullshit. Cameron has been an unmitigated disaster. From food banks and tax evasion to the EU Referendum and the impending, unavoidable split with Scotland, Dave hasn’t merely been managing decline; he has done his utmost to accelerate it. Theresa may not be the solution; but she surely couldn’t do any worse.

© The Editor

CALM DOWN, DEAR – IT’S A LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE

EagleThe dithering is over; just when it seemed the Eagle had floundered, she’s finally confirmed she’s going to mount a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn after all. The woman who swiftly followed Hilary Benn out of the Shadow Cabinet a couple of weeks ago was pushed forward as an early challenger, yet seemed to exhibit the same lack of bottle that afflicted many of those who threw their hats into the ring when Ed Miliband quit and then hastily grabbed them back again. But the right wing of the Labour Party, desperately lacking any evident vote-winner, have turned to the eldest of the Eagle twins (by 15 minutes) because it would appear nobody else will dare to step forward.

Her challenge must present the left wing of Labour with something of a moral dilemma. Angela Eagle is a woman and a lesbian to boot, one of the first female MPs to come out (as far back as 1997). She ticks a fair few of the requisite boxes that should, in theory, earn her the admiration of the hug-a-minority brigade; but by daring to stand against Jezza – which, to the hardcore Corbynistas is as unforgivable as criticising Muhammad is to Fundamentalist Muslims – she will forever be painted as Labour’s Lady Macbeth, especially if she succeeds in toppling the Messiah. She also has to contend with the trade unions, furious that their man in Westminster could be ousted, an anger personified in arrogant threats from the General Secretary of Unite, Professional Scouser Len McCluskey. And then there are the online recruits to the membership, joining in their thousands day-by-day, as Corbyn’s attack dogs are fond of constantly reminding us. Even her own local Labour party in her constituency of Wallasey are opposed to her challenging the leader they support. I can’t say I hold out much hope for Ms Eagle.

Then again, who knows? The last two-and-a-half weeks have taught us not take anything for granted or to make assumptions based on the pattern of a past that can no longer be depended upon to predict the present. What’s most remarkable in this particular case is that a large proportion of Labour MPs have actually got round to challenging Corbyn’s leadership. Rumours of challenges to Brown and Miliband never even got as far as presenting those respective leaders with a candidate to stand against them, though in retrospect they were both deserving of a serious challenge to their fairly inept leadership.

Angela Eagle may seem a strange choice to challenge the radicals’ radical, however. To break down the intimidating wall of parties who have a vested interest in Corbyn’s continuation needs someone with considerable charismatic clout. Like the current Tory contender Theresa May, Eagle has a thin, reedy voice – all treble and no bass. One of the most convincing attributes a leader or prospective leader requires is the ability to broadcast their beliefs in a vocal manner that implies strength and imbues confidence. Listen to recordings of Margaret Thatcher before she became Tory leader and then after; out went the Home Counties housewife and in came the Iron Lady. The conscious deepening of her voice changed the persona she projected to the public and convinced many doubters she had what it took to be entrusted with the keys to No.10.

Such things may sound frivolous, but they count for a lot when a party leader has to get his or her message across to those members of the electorate who have yet to believe the hype. It’s arguable that had Ed Miliband looked like or spoken with the same voice as, say, a young David Owen, the great mass of floating voters may have fallen for him. But what were perceived as his odd looks and even odder voice worked against him as much as any policy he espoused. The collected bald heads of Kinnock, Hague and IDS probably didn’t do any of them any favours either. Like it or not, these are the kind of visual emblems that people pick up on in the beauty contest that politics has become.

Elected to Parliament in 1992, Eagle held a series of junior posts in the Blair Government from 1997-2002 and achieved a prominent ministerial spot under Gordon Brown, promoted to Work and Pensions Secretary in 2009. After the 2010 General Election defeat, she served as a member of Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet, eventually becoming Shadow Leader of the Commons; when Miliband fell on his sword last year she aimed for Deputy Leadership of the party, but only finished fourth. Under Corbyn, she was Shadow Business Secretary, the post she quit a fortnight ago. It’s fair to say she hasn’t exactly set Parliament alight over the past couple of decades; in fact, it took until 2012 before the general public noticed her by default, when David Cameron used her as the butt of his hilarious Michael Winner joke. I admit I myself only recently realised she had a twin sister, let alone that Maria was alongside her in the Commons.

So, it would seem the real challenge here is not to convince the necessary number of Labour MPs that Angela Eagle can lead her party and then, as is hoped, her country, but to convince the membership. Good luck with that, dear.

© The Editor