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Monday, November 09, 2015

Corbyn's Labour- an abrogation of leadership?

This article over on the Times website by Isabel Hardman is aimed at analysing the freedoms that backbenchers have taken for themselves under Jeremy Corbyn's chaotic and ultra-relaxed leadership style. What it also does is demonstrate how the Corbynistas have virtually given up trying to run the Parliamentary Labour Party and are seeking to exercise their influence in the constituencies instead.

Isabel Hardman starts by pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t really use the formal parliamentary office allocated to the leader of the opposition. It iss now a friendly meeting area, while he works in a smaller room near by. She says that the Labour leader often tells party colleagues, whom he bumps into as he ambles alone like a normal backbencher through the parliamentary cafeterias, that they can use it for constituency meetings:

Offering up his empty official office is a typically amiable gesture from the new party leader. But the absence of anyone sitting in what Corbyn describes as the “gilded cage” is also the symbol of a problem. There are now two Labour parties: one that operates from Mr Corbyn’s little office, and a second that is trying to take control of the official functions of the opposition.

Just look at the number of policies on which the leader has one position and his frontbench spokespeople have another. Every time a Corbynite advocates dropping the party’s support for Trident renewal, shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle has to point out that the policy will only change if the UK-wide party formally votes for it. Ms Eagle and Mr Corbyn haven’t even met to discuss Trident, though I understand a meeting is in the diary. The leader also questioned the need for British strikes against Islamic State in Iraq, leaving Hilary Benn to point out, rather icily, that Labour MPs had already voted in favour of it.

Last week the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, stunned Theresa May by saying that Labour would support the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. But Mr Corbyn’s aides made it known he was more sceptical about plans to hand further surveillance powers to spies. It looks as if he is happy to have a different position from his frontbenchers on every issue under the sun. It’s almost as if the “huge mandate” that Mr Corbyn and his supporters boast of is keeping him in place but not having much effect on party policy.

Furthermore, backbenchers, who have just taken over the parliamentary party's committees are actually relishing the freedoms that this leadership style is giving them:

While describing this confusion as “chaotic” and “embarrassing professionally”, shadow cabinet members are pleased they’re so influential. They’ve impressed colleagues by being forthright in meetings, and they feel they’re given far more of a say than under Ed Miliband. “It’s a forum where discussion actually takes place,” says one frontbencher. “Opinions are put forward without fear or favour and people do say what they think even if it’s not thought to be what the leadership wants.” Their backbench colleagues are digging in, too. Many MPs who refused to serve under Corbyn have just taken the leadership of internal party policy committees, which sounds deathly dull, but is a clever way of advancing a more moderate — and electorally palatable — set of policies.

A number of former frontbenchers had already started an informal version of this shadow shadow frontbench, asking tough questions in the Commons so that the Tories don’t glide seamlessly through the autumn without much uncomfortable scrutiny. Those shadow shadow ministers included Chris Leslie, Caroline Flint and Emma Reynolds, all of whom are chairing policy committees and can help their shadow cabinet colleagues by rounding up sympathetic colleagues and being even more outspoken. “We can probably say a lot more than the frontbenchers,” explains one former shadow minister. It would be pleasingly dramatic but sadly inaccurate to say that this is part of the cunning plot from Labour moderates to unseat Mr Corbyn. In truth, they are still disorganised and bewildered after his election, and the increased activity is only because they’ve started working out what to do with all their new free time. “None of us have any idea what’s going to happen,” admits one anti-Corbynite MP. They’re not exactly the Labour SAS, more Dad’s Army.

The key question of course is how long this can go on for before something breaks and, more importantly how effective an opposition Labour can be whilst their key spokesperson are publicly undermining the positions of their leader day in, day out? That is something that only time can tell.
Peter .It might have helped your party if your Westminster colleagues had been more forthright in meetings, and given far more of a say than under Nick Clegg's disastrous leadership during the coalition.

But do we really want the sort of leadership of Thatcher and Blair were dissent
was ruthlessly put down?

It might win elections but the destruction of our manufacturing industry under the former and the Blair legacy of his warmongering without internal party dissent is a price we wil be paying for years to come.

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