2016 minus 37: enemies and incompetence

Posted: 25 November 2015 in 2016minus, politics
Tags: ,

That most wonderful of political dramas The West Wing is, for people with an interest in American politics, a goldmine of quotes. Occasionally, I’ll use one here because it amuses me or simply because I’ve just remembered it and it made me smile. 

And very occasionally, I’ll catch an episode and a quote will leap out front and centre. Season One, Episiode 8; after a last minute ‘save’ by Josh Lyman, as a meeting between him and the President is ending, the following is spoken.

JOSH: We talk about enemies more than we used to.

BARTLET: What?

JOSH: We talk about enemies more than we used to… I just wanted to mention that.


BARTLET: [pauses] Yeah…

This morning I was reading Twitter, and as so often these days, much of the domestic politics discussion is about the ongoing fallout from Jeremy Corbyn’s election and – I’d argue – pretty bad first few months as Leader of the Labour Party. Friends of mine maintain that how he’s viewed by the public is in large part down to the the media. I think that’s nonsense. Some of it, sure, but I think Corbyn’s travails are due to Corbyn himself. His appointment of John McDonnell, a not exactly uncontroversial figure himself, did at least ensure that the Shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition were in agreement about most things. But then again, that’s what always happens: a leader of a party rarely if ever gives the second most important slot to someone he barely agrees with. So I can only assume that today, the day of Prime Minister’s Questions and the Spending Review Statement (what used to be called the Autumn Statement), they were in agreement when the decision was made to give the Tories an easy day in the Commons.

On a day when, but for an invocation of Article Five of the North Atantic Treaty, the UK could be at war with Russia, days before a likely commons vote on whether to engage militarily in Syria, when Brussels is till on lockdown, and Belgium has a state of emergency, the Leader of the Opposition decided to ask several of his questions to the Prime Minister on the subject of… solar panels. And then, a couple of hours later, after George Osborne delivered a Statement that was truly remarkable for the number of U-turns, missed targets and spin, the Shadow Chancellor gave a performance that made Ed Balls’ excruciating response in 2013 look like it was written by Ted Sorenson and delivered by Demosthenes. 

I’m not sure what was going through McDonnell’s mind when he produced his copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, and quoted from it. I guess it was that aforementioned decision to give Cameron and Osborne an easy day. But that seems more and more typical of the current opposition. I know that opposition is intended to compete with the government, but I never before realised that it was with this government’s incompetence they were competing. You’d think that removing and damaging this Tory government is something that Labour activists, Labour members and the front bench would regard as the primary objective. Instead, the Labour party seems to regard the ‘enemy within’ as more vile. 

The problem, as others have identified, is that if you call Labour members,  MPs, hell anyone who disagrees with you “a Tory” and tell them to “join the Tory Party”, some of them probably will. And i’m not entirely convinced that increases the Labour vote. (And for those relying upon the vast swathes of people who didn’t vote in 2015, I’ve bad news for you: Radio 4’s More or Less programme looked at the available research on those who don’t vote; turns out they don’t vote in roughly the same party proportions as those who do.)  

Ellie May O’Hagen, a journalist and activist with whom I disagree far more than I agree, but whose writing I like, made the point about a recent set of polling that not only are Labour MPs more and more out of kilter with the ‘new’ membership, but that membership apears to be equally different from the voting public. And that unless both the parliamentary labour party and the membership at large do something about those differences, Corbyn’s Labour is doomed to fail.

I’ve never hidden my views as to Corbyn, both my differences politically with him and my view that he’s at best tone deaf and at worst supremely indifferent to others’ (including supporters’) anti-semitism.

But those who worship at the Church of Corbyn appear… yeah, there it is. Enemies. It used to be joked by MPs that those sitting across the chamber were your opponents; your enemies sat behind you. Sadly, now, that’s no joke. For many in the Labour Party now, those who have a different opinion to you are the enemy, and they’d rather have an ideologically pure party that loses elections than one that wins elections.

No, that’s not quite fair; they’d actually prefer that a genuine left wing government won a general election; despite the inconvenient fact that in the past 70 years, there’ve been only four outright Labour governments with a proper majority, and three of them were under Blair. Other than that, you’ve got to go back almost 50 years, to 1966 (!) So, yes, most in Labour would rather have a genuinely left wing government. However, if push comes to shove, they’ll take a genuinely left-wing opposition (with accompanying right-wing government) to a less left wing government. Going by today’s performances, they may have a left wing opposition, but what a pity they haven’t at least got a competent one.

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