Bad Year Blues 1½

(follow-up following Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle Fiasco)

…Labour therefore has a responsibility to offer an electable alternative to the Tories.

If we are going to live up to that responsibility, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is a good place to start, for which there can be no better example than the appalling mess of the post-Christmas Shadow Cabinet reshuffle.

Every politics-watcher in and out of the Labour Party will have their favourite car-crash moment, for instance, the wish to sack Hilary Benn for the cardinal sin of advocating the confrontation of fascism, or the actual sacking of Pat McFadden for the suggestion that terrorists should be held to account for their own actions, or the appointment of Emily (“I don’t know why”) Thornberry and the end of any pretence of impartiality in the defence review. These all show a vindictive and narrow political dogma at work, and indeed the mantras of Corbyn’s fan club in the country will be familiar to anyone with knowledge or experience of the far left.

The declaration of primacy of the Corbyn mandate is not only designed to shut down argument, but also gives away his supporters’ adherence to Leninist democratic centralism. They believe that if the Party cadres elect a central authority, in this case the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership , it has absolute and exclusive authority, and any opposition is treachery – including that of MPs.

This is, of course, totally at odds with the principle of parliamentary democracy, where MPs are selected by CLPs and elected by non-party voters according to a manifesto based on policies decided according to the Labour Party constitution. On no issue is this clash of political philosophies clearer than that of the renewal (or not) of Trident and the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

In this case, the party has a clear policy to renew decided by conference and confirmed as recently as last September. Likewise, all Labour MPs were elected in May last year on a manifesto commitment to “a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.”  In contrast, the Corbyn leadership now seeks to impose on those same MPs (and their constituents) a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, based on a faction-driven internal party process alone. Put simply, the Labour left is seeking to boss the electorate against its will, leaving MPs with responsibility without authority: a definition of political and personal hell which few should be willing to tolerate.

If possible, the other signal given to voters by the reshuffle is still more damaging: it was drawn out and dithering , did not achieve the ends trailed by the leadership spin team, and caused more problems than it solved. In short, it was incompetent.  

In its wake, the leader himself was not prepared to do the round of press and media justifying its conduct. Instead he sent out his henchmen John McDonnell and Ken Livingstone to do so, and to smear his critics as “extreme rightwingers” and “Blairites” (which must have made Brownites like Michael Dugher smile.) This incompetence and unwillingness to take responsibility of course only confirms that Jeremy Corbyn has no experience of any front-bench, leadership or managerial position, either in politics or outside. However, it must be an eye-opener for voters who might imagine that such experience is essential to be considered suitable for the post of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Above all  – and this goes back to the Tories’ recurrent dominance of British politics – voters want to be able to trust their country’s security and economy to representatives who appear competent to look after them.  Anyone looking to the reshuffle for signs that Labour can recover will have been disappointed, to say the least.

By this token, any leader who cannot run their own party is seen by the electorate as not fit to run the country. The reshuffle fiasco can only have confirmed this view in the eyes of voters where Jeremy Corbyn is concerned.

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