Far from having lost the plot, the Labour Party appears to find a new one round every corner. The latest charge to be levelled at apparent conspirators came from Tom Watson, following disputed reports that Momentum is seeking financial support from, and direct affiliation to, Unite.
Watson’s contention that “there are some people who do not have our electoral interests at heart” will hardly come as a shock though. That has been the anti-Momentum narrative within the centre and right wing of the party for months. And it is hard not to understand why. Momentum is, after all, in effect an organisation within an organisation which, as outlined in its constitution, aims to “work for the election of a Labour government”. But rather than encouraging a broad base to flock to the Labour ranks, it commits only to encourage “those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign” to join the party. The reason critics think Momentum is an entryist conspiracy is because it looks precisely like an entryist conspiracy.
A secret recording obtained by The Observer appeared to suggest that Jon Lansman, Momentum’s founder, believed it would be to his organisation’s advantage if Len McCluskey were re-elected as Unite’s general secretary. For his part, McCluskey let it be known that he has never met Lansman. And Watson’s claims of a “secret plan” to take over the Labour Party were subsequently turned on their head, as the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, accused his colleague of interfering in the Unite union’s leadership election. This is less plots thickening than multiplying.
As ever, it is the Labour Party that suffers as a result of the machinations. Watson may be right to call out what he sees as existential threats, but in the short term it does nothing to make Labour any more attractive to anyone other than arch-Corbynistas. Indeed, it has always been the paradox of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership that it has been held up as an example of political populism yet without much evidence of it being popular beyond core supporters.
Yet the difficulty for Labour goes beyond the perception that it is dominated by in-fighting. Its primary problem is that it has had so few effective moments holding a poor Government to account. This has been particularly apparent in the past week or so. First, Corbyn angered colleagues by suggesting he would support another independence referendum in Scotland, before blaming the media for “mischievous misreporting” of his words. (“If a referendum is held then it is absolutely fine, it should be held” plainly mean something different to him than everyone else.) Next, he failed to capitalise on the Government’s astonishing U-turn over National Insurance contributions with a dismal performance at PMQs.
Supporters of Corbyn, including members of Momentum, perennially argue that the Labour leader is guided by strong principles. Few would doubt that. These principles would underpin a fairer, more equal Britain, they contend. That too may be right. If he were to win a general election, say his fans, he would change the country for the better.
But all of this ignores the most vital imperative for any political leader – to be effective; to get things done. And if Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters want any further evidence they should take a look over the Atlantic.
Like Corbyn, President Trump rose to the head of his party on a wave of popular appeal, not via backroom deals or political cronyism. Like Corbyn, Trump held out hope of a new way of doing politics, dispensing with establishment voices. Like Corbyn, Trump promised to make the lives of ordinary people better.
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But even though Trump has maintained his bold rhetoric since reaching the White House, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is struggling to achieve anything that backs up those fanciful words. His travel ban has – quite rightly – been stymied not once but twice. Promises he made to supporters about maintaining medical cover despite repealing Obamacare are falling apart at the seams. And as far as America’s relationship with Britain is concerned, Trump’s (over-)friendly meeting with Theresa May has been long forgotten amidst outrageous claims about GCHQ having wire-tapped Trump Tower at the behest of President Obama.
In short, two months in and Trump has done nothing to prove he is capable of governing. No wonder his approval rating has fallen to 37 per cent.
But at least Americans can claim (however disingenuously) they were duped by a brilliant campaign, led to believe that a man with no experience of leading a political party could somehow prove himself adept and effective when he got his hand on the tiller.
For Labour, there is no such chance of gaining power with Corbyn at the helm for precisely the reason that he is already demonstrating the kind of ineptitude he would surely show in office. All talk of plots is a sideshow. For as long as Corbyn remains Labour’s leader, the party will remain out of power.
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