Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. The Labour leadership just can’t get anything right. The naivety shown in London and Edinburgh is killing what hope there was for a radical new politics. Incompetence and inexperience will always trump good intentions as both Jeremy Corbyn and Kezia Dugdale reveal themselves as parvenus ill-equipped for the job.
Energised youth in Dugdale’s case and principled scepticism in Corbyn’s are merely the calling card that gets them through the door. It’s what you do with the position thereafter that counts. That demands craft and precision in plotting a way through personal relations as well as public perception and, probably more than anything else, not making mistakes – certainly not an entire litany of them.
Corbyn has public support for a principled and logical position vis a vis bombing campaigns and it says more about the childish, short concentration span of British journalists that a long internal debate – suspended for further discussion – is regarded as a crisis in itself. Surely the insult to the voters is on the other side where one man and his adviser on a sofa determine the views of hundreds of MPs.
No, the error is in letting the shadow cabinet think they were engaged in forming policy and would return to the table in due course and then blind-siding them by issuing a letter (bound to go public) declaring his own position as fixed on the matter. It undercuts both his colleagues and the process. It would be a bad enough move by a leader in a powerful place but for someone with enemies all around, it is suicidal. Instead of winning hearts and minds with his conscience, he causes despair with his incompetence. Is he unaware that he is not popular in the PLP?
We now have the absurd situation of so-called left-wingers threatening to resign over their desire to bomb another country. This way, Dr Strangelove…
For a man who has spent an adult lifetime in the House of Commons, Corbyn appears to have learned little of how leadership works. Perhaps that’s a consequence of spending all of that time as agit-prop, in constant anti mode, using his party ticket to get elected but putting himself in perpetual opposition to what his party was actually doing. He has been amazingly successful in winning ever-larger majorities in Islington and there is no shame in acting as the conscience of your party, but he is demonstrating that he has few if any of the skills required to front that party to the public and to lead it internally.
The public will have patience for a man who wants to do things differently if they think his heart in the right place, but presiding over a shambles is not the way to convince them you can lead the country. That will be the judgment of most voters too on John McDonnell, a man for whom I have a lot of time having interviewed him often for his insightful and genuinely left-wing views. The joke with Mao’s Little Red Book at the Dispatch Box was in itself fair enough and pointed up the irony of right-wing Tories bowing and scraping to communist China. But when you debate such ideas beforehand, you need someone savvy enough to ask what happens next. Even if the joke works – and the delivery didn’t – you ask yourself what the opposition will do with it. Do you imagine an Alastair Campbell nodding that through? Isn’t it more likely he’d say: People will forget the joke. They’ll remember you holding the Red Book because the Tories will use it relentlessly as a pointer to your own politics.
He becomes the Man who Read Mao’s Little Red Book in the Commons.
Kezia is finding it impossible to cast off her student activist image too having failed so far to imbue her performances with any hint of gravitas. There is a difficulty at Holyrood when the big story is clearly at Westminster and yet the Scottish government is to be held to account, not the Tories. To major on oil prices and the referendum – 14 months ago! – sounded gratuitous against the background of an Autumn Statement which affects the livelihood of Scottish families. Yet critics are right to scoff at Sturgeon’s complaint about the oil question since First Minister’s Questions is, well, questions to the First Minister, not the Chancellor. Why didn’t Kezia just do both?
Question one: Does the FM agree with me that the Chancellor’s U-turn on tax credit cuts which we successfully opposed, does not alter the brutal programme of austerity, merely delays it?
Question two: Does she also agree with me that Scottish livelihoods would have been severely affected by the collapse in oil prices if she’d won the referendum etc…?
Her option made her look petty, out of touch and obsessed with independence. Her credibility needs all the building up she can get and sharing a view with the government from time to time shows sense and maturity – as Ken McIntosh said in his leadership campaign.
The same lack of nous arose in our later Twitter exchange when she upbraided the FM for her aside in the chamber about Richard Simpson being an oaf when he interrupted her. Kezia said it was disrespectful to a doctor and member of the royal colleges, etc. She’s not wrong, either. But anyone with a memory long enough would immediately recall the same distinguished Dr Simpson saying Scottish fire fighters, who were in dispute in 2002, were ‘fascist bastards’ – a somewhat worse example of rudeness and he had to resign as a minister. Her tweet opened the door to that challenge and reminded people of an awkward moment in Labour’s past, one they’d rather forget. Of course, she has the excuse that she was in university at the time but isn’t that exactly the problem? Labour has picked a leader without the years of experience behind her. It isn’t her fault but it’s a hard fact that she simply isn’t immersed in the detail and appears to have no one at her side saying at the very least: Ca’ canny. Here’s the history. Do you want to risk it?
This is hardly Corbyn level damage but it adds ammunition to the idea that she isn’t equipped yet for the job she’s doing. As Sillars said: She might be ready in another 10 years. Labour don’t have that time. So far there is no discernable impact on voting intentions from her leadership and even if the public get worried about SNP internal problems, do they look worse than the mess Labour is in? The minimum requirement for credibility is competence. Labour currently lacks it north and south.by