Thursday, 23 July 2015

Nice guy Corbyn pushes Labour to edge of oblivion - my Catholic Universe column

I feel that my soul is in danger. I have committed a mortal sin but I just cannot help it. I am deeply envious.
Let me put my offence into context and you may be able to advise whether I will be spending a long time in purgatory or even going somewhere much warmer.
On the morning of Friday 8th May the newly reinstalled Prime Minister was going about his business, visiting Her Majesty and starting to put together his first all Conservative cabinet. Elsewhere in the capital Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg were busy resigning as respective leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats whilst on a cliff top in Margate UKIP leader Nigel Farage was busy doing the same thing.
What came next was an object lesson in how to do things and how not to in party politics.
Despite promising to stand down if his party were unsuccessful before the election Mr Farage’s resignation actually lasted all of four days. Mr Farage withdrew his resignation after it was ‘unanimously rejected by the national executive committee members who produced overwhelmingly evidence that the UKIP membership did not want Nigel to go’.
Unfortunately for Mr Farage a number of other senior figures in UKIP didn’t see things quite the same way which lead to some very unsightly and public bloodletting. The end result however is one where apart from the term ‘doing a Farage’ (to denote someone resigning with very little intention of actually going) entering the lexicon the pre-election status quo has very much resumed.
Hardly a way to manage a smooth transition from one generation to the next.
On the other hand we have the Liberal Democrats, the reason for my mortal sinning.
In what will undoubtedly become a model for installing a new leader we have witnessed a concise but nevertheless full timetable of a couple of months being implemented. We’ve seen two prospective leadership candidates setting out distinct views of the path that their party should take and we’ve witnessed, on the whole, two sets of activists entering into debate without resorting to personal attacks of either the candidates or of each other.
The end result is the installation of Tim Farron, a genuinely decent family man as leader of that much diminished party.
Mr Farron is on record as being a practising member of the Anglican church and is that rarest of political creatures an up and coming politician who wears his Christian faith on his sleeve. Although his faith, particularly after he abstained on the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, has led to questions from some quarters of his commitment to equality rights I know of no one in politics who doesn’t genuinely wish Mr Farron the very best in his leadership of the Liberal Democrats.
The LibDems have proved you can have a smooth leadership process and arrive, at least initially, at a genuinely unifying conclusion.
Which brings me to why I am envious of Mr Farron’s party.
Labour’s leadership process is only half way through. We won’t know who our leader will be until the middle of September and it’s looking increasingly likely that the fallout and recriminations will last long after a declaration has been made.
From the moment Ed Miliband announced his resignation vocal pockets of Labour activists began calling for a candidate from the hard left, high taxation, anti-austerity wing of the party. They feel that the way the public voted in May was not the fault of Labour but that of the electorate. That the answer isn’t to listen to all of those voters who talked on the doorsteps about economic credibility but to shout forcefully that more spending is needed.
Very much at the last minute of the nomination process enough members of the Parliamentary Labour Party acceded to calls for a debate which encompassed candidates from all reaches of Labour’s political spectrum. As a result and despite many of the MP’s who nominated him being very clear that they would not support him in the membership ballot Jeremy Corbyn was included in the short list of four prospective leaders.
And that, dear readers, is very much where the real problems started.
Members of political parties are not ordinary people. They don’t judge a government at election time on overall how well the economy is doing or whether public services are robust, they live politics every minute of every day and more often than not hate the ideologies of the other guys.
Just as many Conservative Party members are far more right wing, string ‘em up or send ‘em home, than most of the electorate many Labour members would like to see wholesale renationalisation and punitive taxation of the rich. The difficulty is that that significant portion of Labour members are mobilising very effectively behind Mr Corbyn, so much so that there is a real chance that he will become leader of his party.
Mr Corbyn has secured the endorsement of Unite, Britains largest trade union, as well as the nominations of more constituency parties than any other candidate.
Even before the possible effects of the Daily Telegraph’s call for Tory voters to sign up as Labour supporters (just £3.00!) to vote for Mr Corbyn with a cry of ‘consign the party to electoral oblivion in 2020 – and silence its loony Left forever’ are taken into account the other campaigns are worried.
Leaked private polling is showing that under the Labour Party’s transferable voting system Mr Corbyn may well be now most popular of the four candidates. It appears that whilst alternative candidates Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper are still in with a shout as a result of second preferences Liz Kendall, constantly billed as the Blairite candidate, is out for the count.
However, what makes all of this so much more difficult is the atmosphere that it is being conducted in. In harking back to far darker times which bring forth a least a degree of Stalinesque imagery the Labour Party has a tendency to call for debate to be held in ‘comradely’ fashion and yet camaraderie is far from what is happening in our leadership contest.
Anyone who dares question the appropriateness of Mr Corbyn as leader is branded a Tory by his vocal supporters. Whilst a staff member working for one candidate told me how they were called a traitor at a nomination meeting most of the vitriol however is being reserved for Ms Kendall who despite being a Labour party member for the best part of 30 years, an MP and a shadow cabinet minister is regularly abused by trolls on her social network feeds and I have no doubt at leadership hustings. A significant number of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, although importantly not Mr Corbyn himself, should be ashamed of themselves.
The question of course is why should any of this matter to Universe readers? The answer is simple.
Having an effective, electable opposition – whether you support them or not - is vital. We need a realistic choice in order to keep governments on their toes.
Mr Corbyn seems a decent man, I have never met him, but sadly he is unelectable and the Conservative Party know this. In my forty plus years a left wing government has never been elected in this country. I cannot help but think of the words of Henry Ford when he said ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’. Why would anyone think a strident left wing party would change that rule now?
A party colleague put my point in much more human terms when they recently said to me ‘In 1983, when my Dad was out of work with no hope of finding a job, struggling with mum to feed me and my brother and never knowing where the next penny was coming from, a Labour Party that thought it was fine to be unelectable because it was in the right was no good to us. It didn't buy school shoes or put 50p pieces in the electricity meter. We needed a Labour Government not a pressure group. Nothing has changed. The kids eating out of food banks and the pensioners lying on hospital trollies need a Labour Government. I hope party members across the country are thinking about that right now.’ 
Now do you see why I am envious of those Liberal Democrats?


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