I’m not a member of the Labour Party. I’m actually not a member of any political party. I’m just very interested in the field and I keep up with the political news. So, while Boris continues to bluster his way through daily life as Prime Minister, my attention has turned to what the opposition is doing. After its mauling in last December’s election, Jeremy Corbyn announced he would not lead the party into another general election and the process to elect its new leader is underway. We won’t get a result until the 4th April. But it is essential for the country that they get this right.
Boris Johnson is very good at playing the buffoon. He’s actually more intelligent than that, but he’s cultivated this persona to try and appeal to anyone and everyone. He is a populist chameleon, changing his view to whatever will keep him popular enough. Campaigning for leaving the European Union was a calculated move. David Cameron has said he asked Johnson why he was campaigning for something he had never previously believed in. And that the only conclusion Cameron could come to was that Johnson wanted to manoeuvre himself to become ‘the darling of the party’ by backing something he judged would be defeated but would leave him in a more advantageous position to take over as Prime Minister at a later date.
And many people have come forward to tell of their experience working with and/or for Johnson. As Foreign Secretary, he was filmed reciting Rudyard Kipling’s colonist poem The Road to Mandalay on a trip to Myanmar (Burma). He is notorious for never really reading his ministerial brief and thus just opens his mouth and says something without having the faintest idea whether it’s either possible or even true.
That was showcased very recently when he suggested that the public should donate to have Big Ben chime at 11:00pm on Sunday when Britain officially leaves the EU. He had no idea whether it was possible for such a thing to be done or if it was legal for the government or the House of Commons to accept donations of this sort. This led to a massive campaign on GoFundMe, looking for £500,000 to have one of London’s most famous landmarks mark something that a recent poll now has a majority of those surveyed being against. The campaign failed for a number of reasons, mainly the logistics of trying to work around the continuing restoration works at Elizabeth Tower, and the fact that any maintenance done to the Palace of Westminster must be paid for out of the public purse, rather than through public donations. They aren’t allowed to accept donations for public works no matter how much they may want to.
One of Corbyn’s weaknesses as Leader of the Opposition has been his inability to properly hold the government to account. Granted there isn’t much opportunity outside of Prime Minister’s Questions, which is more of a shouting match than any kind of genuine check on the government. But PMQ’s is an important opportunity for the Opposition Leader to present his or herself as a viable alternative to the incumbent Prime Minister. Corbyn always came across as doddering, flat-footed and unable to land any significant blows to whoever was at the Government despatch box. Moreover, the public did not trust Jeremy Corbyn as a potential Prime Minister, no matter how much they may have agreed with individual policies. Be it his outspoken stances supporting organisations like Hezbollah, or his previous republicanism (he famously refused to sing the national anthem during a service to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Britain). People outside of his support base simply did not trust him.
That is the job that lays before whoever takes over. Labour need someone who will be able to unite the party. Corbyn was not able to bring many of the more right-wing members of the Party onside. The party was always fractured under his leadership. There was even a vote of no confidence from the Parliamentary Party in 2017. To be a credible opposition, Labour needs to find a leader that the whole party can get behind, without compromising their message or election campaigns. Someone who won’t necessarily take Labour back to the style of Tony Blair but who can avoid the chaos and division that Labour suffered under Michael Foot’s leadership.
It’s all well and good having policies that appeal to your strong supporters, but they aren’t the people you need to convince. The people Labour will need to convince are the voters who turned to the Conservatives in December. The Tories made such wild gains in areas they could only have dreamed of, because people in those areas felt that the Labour Party no longer stood for what they believed in. Whether it’s Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey, Emily Thornberry or Lisa Nandy, whoever becomes leader needs to nail Johnson, and demonstrate to the wider world that he is not the Brexit messiah, and his brand of nationalistic, Latin spouting populism will run the country into the ground, hurting the very people who gave him the majority he now enjoys.