jezzaWell, that was an edge-of-the-seat moment, wasn’t it – a penalty shoot-out for the future of Her Majesty’s Opposition that nobody could predict the result of. Sorry, pardon the sarcasm. Unlike the fevered speculation that always ignites whenever there’s a vacancy for the job of Doctor Who, James Bond or the England team manager, the question over the Labour leadership was a non-starter from the moment Angela Eagle launched her ill-fated bid after the frontbench exodus in the aftermath of Brexit. As expected, Jezza the Messiah has consolidated his grip on the party, wiping the floor with the hapless Owen Smith, and he can now continue with the task of leading the British people out of the wilderness.

The week leading up to today’s leadership election result has seen some of the less principled Labour MPs who walked away from the Shadow Cabinet in a mass hissy fit meekly reverse their previous opposition to Corbyn, declaring they would happily rejoin Team Jeremy now that the coup has utterly fizzled out and their chances of forming an alternative opposition have collapsed completely. If Jezza has anything about him at all, he won’t be making any approaches to them. Indeed, the PLP majority who have made their feelings clear about Corbyn’s leadership are now confronted by a perplexing dilemma.

When the Gang of Four exited the Labour Party in 1981 and formed the SDP, many felt they should have stayed put and wrestled control from the far left and its Militant affiliates; some never forgave them for what they perceived as a dereliction of duties. Whilst there aren’t any current Labour MPs with the kind of clout the likes of Roy Jenkins or David Owen possessed at the time, there remains a sizeable body of Labour Parliamentarians facing the fact that the membership are backing Corbyn and not them. So where do they go? Let’s face it, not being able to call on the services of Tristram Hunt, Chukka Umunna or Liz Kendall is hardly going to give Corbyn any sleepless nights; but Emily Thornberry? Diane Abbott? With those names on your side, 2020 can hardly be pencilled in as the date Labour finally set up shop at the Promised Land.

Jezza’s winning speech after the inevitable was announced saw him insist the kind of intimidation and online abuse that has characterised his devoted following was not his way and not the Labour way; but it is the Momentum way. And while Corbyn himself is someone who comes across as a largely likeable individual, the sinister double-barrelled Trots and borderline anarchists who have turned him into a Gandhi for Generation Snowflake are immensely worrying. If – and this is a big if – this country should ever elect Corbyn as PM, it’s difficult to foresee anything other than a virtual Vichy Government, with Jezza as an oblivious frontman for ulterior motives of a nature that would make the deep divisions that were exposed in the EU Referendum seem like a minor kerfuffle in a primary school classroom that can be curtailed by the intervention of a supply teacher.

The ‘number crunching’ sections of ‘Private Eye’ are occasional eye-openers that make a point succinctly; a recent one pointed out that an estimated 2,500 turned out for yet another of those seemingly endless Corbyn rallies, this time in Sheffield, whereas 1,279 was the number who voted Labour at a Council Election in the same city a month later, one that the Lib Dems won on a 31.8 swing – yes, that’s right; the bloody Lib Dems! Translating cult appeal to a national phenomenon is an impossible mission that I don’t believe Labour under Corbyn has yet to grasp; and the fact that traditional Labour heartlands are populated by disgruntled voters that are not only at odds with the Blairite vision of Britain but also Jezza’s equally out-of-touch idyll suggests a state of blissful denial on the part of Team Jeremy that will only result in another General Election disaster four years from now. And we haven’t even broached the tricky subject of Scotland, where even the bleedin’ Tories – never mind the SNP – have capitalised on the abysmal Labour performance.

The third-way mess that the class of Professional Politician has left not just this country but both Western Europe and the US in over the last couple of decades has understandably provoked a vociferous reaction in passionate grass-roots movements; and I see no discernible difference between the far-right protests of the Tea Party in the States or the Corbynistas here. But neither has offered anything other than a series of grievances with the ruling elite, ultimately defined by what they are opposed to rather than what they stand for, grievances that are regularly manifested as infantile vitriolic hatred towards the competition that rarely rises above playground name-calling. Unlikely figureheads, whether Jezza or Trump, have been pushed forward as unlikely saviours while the background boys with the nefarious agenda plot their takeover strategies with little or no care for what this will do to the actual electorate.

The infiltration of Labour by the Momentum virus, with threats of MP de-selection if the MPs in question oppose the Corbyn master-plan, hardly points to a democratic future for Labour. This also echoes Militant nightmares of the 80s, and Corbyn’s insistence that intimidation is not part of his makeup doesn’t carry much weight when the evidence of his supporters’ intentions is so blatant. His anticipated triumph in a challenge that was undertaken in the absence of any charismatic or convincing opponent is symptomatic of the sorry state of a once-great party that doesn’t bode well for mainstream politics or the supposed alternative to a Conservative Party that hasn’t been in such a privileged position for thirty years.

© The Editor


robotsYou know the nights will shortly be drawing in when the television mainstays that mark the non-summer months return. Putting the Saturday shower aside (Saturday being a byword for bollocks, whatever the season) this week saw normal Thursday service resumed when ‘Question Time’ returned. Always a mixed-bag depending on the blend of panellists, the programme reconvened with the autumnal evening schedule via a special debate between Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his challenger Owen Smith. The debate part, when the two men addressed each other and put one another on the spot, was actually quite good; and one could see the germ of a potentially fascinating programme. Had it not fallen under the ‘Question Time’ banner, which necessitates audience participation, this could have been the case. But every time it looked as though things were about to get interesting, proceedings were interrupted by Dimbleby and another question from an audience member.

This tactic works within the usual context of ‘Question Time’, sparking most of the programme’s best bits, particularly when the panel contains a contentious cat amongst the party pigeons, such as Starkey, Galloway or Hitchens; but in this case, as with the now-customary pre-General Election or leadership contest debates, the need for constant audience interjections stymies the politicians from taking each other to task and the end result is ultimately unsatisfactory.

Although in his introduction to this special edition David Dimbleby assured viewers the assembled audience was divided between Corbynistas, Smith supporters and a mix of other party voters, the Jezza element lived up to its bullish reputation by loudly booing Smith and enthusiastically cheering their hero. One young female audience member spoke of the studio atmosphere as being a microcosm of the party itself at the moment, going against the stereotype of the student Corbyn groupie as she did so; but the palpable hint of aggressive intimidation persisted, even if Corbyn himself was again at pains to distance himself from those who intimidate in his name, especially when it came to the sensitive subject of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Smith seemed to face a more hostile reception than his opponent, though his insistence on demanding a second EU Referendum when the programme was coming from Oldham didn’t really work as well as it perhaps would have done had it been broadcast from London.

As is so often the case with televised ‘debates’ between two or more participants, there was a generous amount of scripted common-sense platitudes emanating from the stage that nobody with half-a-brain would dispute or disagree with. These stock statements are produced by those under the spotlight because they know they’ll take up time that might otherwise be available for possibly awkward moments where they have to resort to instant answers to questions they weren’t expecting. Owen Smith has dropped his fair share of impromptu clangers during his leadership challenge, though he managed to avoid putting his foot in it this time round.

Corbyn himself appeared far more confident in his role as incumbent leader than he regularly appears in the Commons, projecting the image of someone finally – if belatedly – comfortable doing the job he was elected to do. But his challenger also came across as less unconvincing than he did at the initial launch of his campaign, when he unwisely sought to stress how ‘normal’ he was by calling on the services of his wife and kids to emphasise that normality, a ploy reminiscent of the ‘Little Britain’ politician using his family in the same way before the press pack on his doorstep when offering a perfectly reasonable explanation for his encounters with young men on the street during the twilight hours. Having said that, one audience member was honest enough to express his absence of confidence in both men to lead Labour back into government, reflecting the opinion shared by many without a vested interest in the Labour Party. The response of Corbyn and Smith when confronted by this was to fall back on those dependable old platitudes again. When asked if the loser would accept a job in the winner’s Shadow Cabinet, Corbyn’s belief in the likelihood of a victory was mirrored in his willingness to offer Smith a post, whereas Smith made it clear he wouldn’t accept such an offer. The latter also denied a mass exodus from the party should he fail to take charge, though the audience didn’t appear to believe him.

I can’t really imagine any floating voter coming away from this QT curtain-raiser being won over by either man; the Corbynistas believe Jezza can do no wrong whatever he does next, so it didn’t really matter how good or bad he performed on the programme; and the majority of Labour MPs backing Smith are doing so because there’s nobody else for them to throw their weight behind. Non-party members probably won’t care who wins come the actual election because they don’t discern anyone capable of getting one over a far-from united Conservative Party whoever faces Theresa May across the dispatch box once the conference season is out of the way. This programme was a moderately entertaining partial glimpse into the disintegration of opposition and not much more.

© The Editor


CorbynIn a week that has seen numerous prominent Republicans across the pond express their antipathy towards the man their party has chosen to lead them into November’s Presidential Election, a poll here has revealed that 29% of Labour voters would rather vote for Theresa May than Jeremy Corbyn – so that means the Tories could count on 2.7 million extra votes were the PM to call an autumn Election. As things currently stand, the Government are fourteen points ahead of Labour. Basically, what the hell is she waiting for? It’s hard to think of any Prime Minister in recent times being in such a strong position to secure a mandate; and it could well be a far more concise mandate than the one she inherited. In many respects, it’s a measure of just how weak the opposition is that the Tories were able to overcome their bitter divisions on Europe and emerge relatively unscathed in record time.

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with Jezza’s leadership both within his own party and outside of the enclosed echo chamber of party activism, it’s hard to imagine the unstoppable cult of Corbyn being brought to an end by Owen Smith. The election of six Momentum candidates onto the National Executive Committee – the last outstanding barrier to taking control of the party by the far left – means Corbyn’s neo-Trotskyist cronies now have a majority on Labour’s ruling body. This comprehensive coup even overshadows the machinations of Tony Benn and Militant Tendency to seize power in the early 80s; and if that gave birth to the SDP, what on earth will current events begat?

Despite the fact that the post-Brexit Labour frontbench seems occupied by anonymous members of the public whose place there is due to them winning a competition, the news that Andy Burnham, one of the few remaining leftovers from the last Labour Government, is to run for Mayor of Greater Manchester will leave it looking even more threadbare. Burnham has remained relatively loyal to Corbyn, hence holding onto his post as Shadow Home Secretary after the exodus following Hilary Benn’s sacking; but the chance to become the first elected mayor of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was clearly too tempting to reject in favour of sentimentally staying aboard a sinking ship until it disappears beneath the waves of mediocrity.

By the way, for those of you south of Watford, Manchester begins just after you exit the Midlands and takes you all the way up to Scotland; there’s nothing else in The North other than Manchester, of course. Oh, there is Liverpool; but that’s more or less in Ireland, anyway.

With just over a month left before the Labour leadership election, Owen Smith not only has to contend with his own absence of charisma, but the online army that Corbyn can call upon, one that recruits party members by the thousand on a daily basis, if we’re to believe the hype. Unless you happen to be a Biblical magician ala Moses, trying to stem the flow is a futile exercise; even the High Court this week ruled that the new recruits should be entitled to a vote come September. Like a lot of hip ‘n’ groovy techno-savvy movers and shakers, I am on Facebook, but I generally use it for personal messages, and my FB wall is solely an advertising board for posting links to articles on this blog and the ‘Looking for Alison’ one; when confronted by my news-feed, however – the section of the system that shows what one’s friends have been posting – I’m regularly bombarded by pro-Corbyn propaganda that provokes a roll of the eyes and a scroll of the page. There is no room for debate where the Messiah is concerned; you’re either with us or against us, and if you’re against us you’re a Blairite Tory, simple as that. This is the monochrome level the whole scenario has descended to.

I’m tempted to say ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Corbyn is re-crowned Labour leader at the end of September, it’s impossible to envisage those within the party who don’t subscribe to the cult simply sitting quietly on the backbenches. Many of them have served in government and are quite keen to get back into it, unlike Corbyn’s disciples, whose natural (and preferred) place is in permanent opposition. The aim of the Corbyn Project is not to govern the country, which would mean having to actually engage with Racist Homophobic Islamophobic Transphobic Blairite Tories, but to look after its own clique and devote all its energies to ridding that clique of anyone who dares to venture an opinion that contradicts the Project. The future has never been brighter for the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and never bleaker for the Labour Party.

So, what happens the day after the expected Corbyn triumph on Sep 24? Liberal Democrats may be coy whenever talk of a potential merger between their depleted party and the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs is raised; and nobody has yet publicly proposed such a marriage bar vague comments by a few opportunistic old hands like Paddy Ashdown. But a Corbyn-led Labour Party and Momentum-dominated NEC is one that will be utterly incompatible with the majority of Labour MPs, not to mention the majority of the electorate. A split is surely inevitable, and what that will lead to, God only knows. Another decade of Conservative Government, probably.

© The Editor


FacelessAlas Smith and Jones – the two Owens. That’s why I keep confusing their surnames. It doesn’t help that the Englishman has the Welsh surname and the Welshman has the English one. Yes, that’s how instantly forgettable the man who believes he can topple Jezza really is, that I confuse him with the baby-faced media socialist from ‘The North’ whenever he crops up in conversation. Anyway, let’s get the trivial factors out of the way.

Owen Smith looks like one of those half-dozen contenders who are first to throw their hat into the ring when there’s a leadership vacancy, the one nobody’s ever heard of, the one who’s there to make up the numbers; only, he isn’t Stephen Crabb. He didn’t drop out before a single vote had been cast. Now that Angela Eagle has returned to the charisma factory she was manufactured in, Owen Smith is the sole contender for Corbyn’s hollow crown. Unlike the Christian Tory who believes homosexuality is a curable illness but ‘sexting’ somebody who isn’t one’s spouse is permissible, Owen Smith doesn’t even have a ridiculous claim to fame. I can’t get worked up about what a nonentity he is. When I see Donald Trump and his supporters, I see a Nuremberg Rally; I feel like I’m looking at Hitler on a cinema newsreel in the 30s and I shudder because I know what comes next. When I see Owen Smith, I see the bloke behind the building society counter asking me if I’ve ever considered a credit card when I’m withdrawing my last four-and-a half quid.

Lest we forget, however, he is normal – as he emphasised when launching his pitch this week. He’s got a wife and kids and has already raffled them as political collateral before the cameras. Angela Eagle, AKA ‘Mrs Civil Partnership’, can’t do that, can she? He’s Welsh, of course – just like his hero Nye Bevan; funny how that particular Welsh Labour name keeps cropping up in the same sentence as Smith, rather than Neil Kinnock (Once elected as an MP with a Welsh constituency, Smith at least made sure he quickly relocated to the Land of his Fathers from Surrey). As an orator and presence, he generates the same kind of confidence in the viewer as Ed Miliband managed so masterfully for five years. Hell, yeah.

The son of a Welsh historian and broadcaster, Smith attended a state school, but his first brush with politics after working both for the BBC and as a lobbyist for a couple of pharmaceutical companies was as a Spad for MP Paul Murphy in his roles as Secretary of State for Wales and then Northern Ireland. His early public pronouncements on all things political included a thumbs-up for the archetypal Blairite project for the NHS, the Private Finance Initiative, as well as initial approval for the invasion of Iraq.

Smith’s eventual entrance into Westminster came via the safe seat of Pontypridd in 2010, and he was made Shadow Secretary for Wales by Ed Miliband in 2012. Jeremy Corbyn gave him the job that bestowed household name status upon him – Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions – after ascending to the Labour leadership last year, a post Smith held until joining the Shadow Cabinet exodus in the wake of the Brexit vote.

As the fusty old Conservative Party elected its second female leader and consequently gave the country a woman as PM for a second time – 2-0, as the late Dave gloated in the Commons – Labour’s alleged reputation as the promoter of minorities and testicle-free individuals has left us once again with a white man challenging a white man for the top job. And Smith wants Claus IV reborn, incorporating a pledge to tackle inequality into the party’s constitution; not applicable where the party’s leadership is concerned, apparently. According to Smith himself, he shares many of Corbyn’s core values; if that’s the case, what’s the point in replacing Jezza as leader with someone who oozes even less charm and personality than the bearded wonder? Isn’t the aim of a potential new leader to distinguish himself from the man he hopes to succeed? Theresa May seems to have taken that on board in record time.

The hustings begin in a couple of days, with the promise of some truly electrifying platform performances from the secular Ayatollah who could fart into a microphone and still elicit euphoric adulation from his disciples, and from the challenger about whom it’s physically, mentally and medically impossible to get remotely excited. Both are supporting cast members; neither are leading men. And yet, top of the bill is exactly what they’re fighting for. Who will be Prime Minister if a General Election is called in the autumn or the spring? I’ll wager she’ll have a penchant for kitten heels. Who will be Leader of the Opposition? Which Opposition is that, then?

© The Editor