Ideology aside, Corbyn’s abysmal performance as Leader of the Opposition is not only a problem for the Labour party, but for British democracy too.
It has almost been one year since Jeremy Corbyn was overwhelmingly voted in as Leader of the Labour party. An unapologetically rebellious and far-left veteran backbench MP, Corbyn promised to usher in an era of ‘new politics’. However, the recent Vice News documentary, which follows Corbyn and his inner team behind the scenes, has revealed the true haphazard and alarming state of affairs in the Leader of the Opposition’s office.
This is not intended to be a critique of Corbyn’s ideology. Indeed, it is patently clear what Corbyn is against – trident and austerity to name but two key issues – but what is he actually for? This is, perhaps, one of the most significant weaknesses of his leadership so far: his inability to articulate concrete and pragmatic policies and hence a coherent strategy for gaining power in 2020.
The leader’s office is completely dysfunctional
In an age where political and economic issues are increasingly complex, it is essential that any credible governing strategy is intelligent, innovative and forward-looking. And yet, Corbyn, with his rather dogmatic penchant for principle, fails on all three counts.
In the words of one prominent Labour MP: “There are no policies, they [Corbyn’s team] have not set out any stances. The leader’s office is completely dysfunctional.”
More profoundly however, is Corbyn’s seeming inability to meet the understandably high demands that leading the largest political party in British politics entails. Certainly, being Leader of the Opposition cannot be an easy job, even for the most gifted political operators. Yet, whilst it may seem trivial, clearly a key prerequisite characteristic of any successful leader must be to provide clear direction and unite people behind them.
Failure to grasp the basic fact that the very nature of modern politics has fundamentally altered
One year on, there seems to be no clear direction of travel for Labour under Corbyn. Granted, Corbyn has not been helped by the fact that many moderate Labour MPs refuse to serve in his shadow cabinet, but the ‘inclusive politics’ that he promised seems to have been windy rhetoric.
The problem with Corbyn’s ‘new politics’ is not in its intent or objectives, but in its failure to grasp the basic fact that the very nature of modern politics has fundamentally altered.
To be electorally successful, the media must, to some extent, be courted. Corbyn’s resistance and constant bemoaning of the media is damaging. As Leader, compromises must also inescapably be made. This includes, most crucially, ostensible movements towards the electoral centre-ground to aid the achievement of a perception of wider governing credibility, especially in the realm of economic management.
Whether Corbyn likes it or not, politicians and political parties must focus as much on professionalism, presentation and party branding as they do on ideas and principles. As cynical as all this may sound, this is simply a reality of how to create and mobilise a winning electoral machine, as the success of Tony Blair clearly demonstrates.
The truth is that since the general election last year, the current Conservative government has been incredibly complacent. But more alarmingly, they have been able to get away with it.
Starting with Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell’s laughable response to the Autumn Statement in November 2015, in which he decided to quote from Mao’s Red Book. Or, more recently, Corbyn’s failure to fully capitalise on Osborne’s second ‘omni-shambles’ budget earlier this year, which was accompanied by the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and U-turn on the announced (and inherently unfair) tax credits cuts.
Not to mention the governments recent U-turn on academies. If ever there was a political free lunch, then this was surely it? Or even his relatively lacklustre support so far in proactively backing the Remain campaign in the EU referendum.
No signs of improvements or indeed much hope for winning back power in 2020
What is blindingly clear is that since the date of the EU referendum was announced, the largely divided Conservative government have been almost completely unable to get anything done: business as usual, it seems, will not resume until June 24th. Yet, Corbyn has failed to effectively seize and scrutinise such governing incompetence.
This is more than just a problem for the Labour party. It also poses potentially damaging risks to the health and functioning of British democracy too. Indeed, one of the most important tasks of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition is to hold the government to account. Whilst the media can play their part, the nature of the British political system is such that the government is formally held accountable through Parliament.
Moreover, the real tragedy for the Labour party since Corbyn’s election is the wasted pool of immensely talented, experienced and moderate MPs currently wasting away on the back-benches. Each of whom command a significant level of wider electoral appeal such as; Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Emma Reynolds, to name but a few.
Almost one year into his leadership, Corbyn has shown no signs of improvements or indeed much hope for winning back power in 2020. The trouble with Jeremy is not his ideology, as noble (and outmoded) as it may be, but that he is simply unfit to the task of leading the Labour party up – what must seem to be – the long road back to 10 Downing Street.