Don Brind evokes Mrs Thatcher’s memorable assertion
It’s International Peace Day and I’m in the strange position, for me, of defending Jeremy Corbyn. My audience is someone who ought to be a natural Corbynista – a veteran campaigner for peace and international development.
“I like Jeremy as a person,” I tell her”. He’s a decent man.” She is having none of it. “I think he’s a vain old man. He’s loving all that adulation but he’s peddling false hope.”
Fast forward to Liverpool and the Labour Women’s conference, where a delegate from Tooting gets into conversation with one of the leader’s most ardent and longstanding supporters. “He needs to shape up,” says Tooting woman. The reply is an eye-opener. “The trouble is, he is difficult to manage.”
Labour’s nightmare is that after a second leadership landslide this “difficult to manage, vain old man” is Labour’s TINA*. There Is No alternative to him — no credible rivals either on his own side or amongst his many doubters.
But the need for Corbyn to “shape up” and raise his game as leader was emphasised by the inept way his media chief Seamus Milne made last minute autocue changes to the speech by Shadow Defence Secretary Clive Lewis.
I know and like Lewis but I haven’t seen him face-to-face to get his reaction to being Milned but his treatment is depressingly reminiscent of the experiences of Lilian Greenwood, Chi Onwurah, Gloria de Piero, Sharon Hodgson, Nia Griffiths and others that led them to resign from the Shadow Cabinet.
So it shouldn’t have come as a shock to Lewis – and indeed it won’t have done. When he declared his support for Corbyn’s in late July Lewis said: “We must also acknowledge that the leadership of the party has not been good enough yet – that is Corbyn’s fault, just as much as it is mine and my colleagues.”
Lewis’s speech in which he effectively sank Corbyn’s hopes of committing Labour to opposing Trident renewal was hailed by Owen Jones as evidence of his potential as a future leader.
And while the polls remain so dire the leadership question will hang over the party despite a declaration by Chuka Umunna that Corbyn’s victory had settled the issue. The idea that a change may be necessary is supported by Corbyn’s critical friend Owen Jones. He argues that “If the challenges aren’t being met, and the polling remains disastrous, then it will be time to consider somebody else better placed to communicate radical ideas in a way that convinces and inspires, perhaps from the new intake of MPs.”
But for now the issue is making the party an effective force in Parliament. It’s in this context that I believe Corbyn ought to embrace the idea of elections to the Shadow Cabinet elections — rather than “not ruling it out”. It would be the most substantial olive branch he could proffer.
It would allow those who resigned or refused to serve an honourable way back. Implemented in the right spirit it could promote mutual respect between the leader and those who are asked to confront the Tories at Westminster.
It will be a signal from the leader that he knows he has fault and limitations but that he is determined to be the best that he can be.
*It was, of course, Margaret Thatcher who was nicknamed TINA for her repeated assertion that her neo-economic policies were the only show in town. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_no_alternative