Labour sails into the doldrums

January 8 2017 / Sunday Mirror

There is much conflict in the Conservative Party, especially over Brexit, but senior Tories are agreed on one thing: the Labour opposition offers no threat to them.

One former cabinet minister said to me that the Brexit debate amounted essentially to an argument within the “conservative family”. By “family” he meant the Tory party, the right wing press and the business community. As far as he was concerned, Labour was irrelevant and had nothing to contribute to the defining political and economic issue of our times.

How has it come to this? Many Labour MPs blame their present malaise and disastrous poll ratings on Jeremy Corbyn. But the left is losing throughout Europe and Corbyn is a symptom rather than the cause of Labour’s decline.

Corbyn won two leadership contests in little more than a year and is clearly the leader the members and activists want and the biggest trade union, Unite, continues to support.

His anti-austerity message remains popular with a couple of hundred thousand people who self-identify as socialists. They have the whip hand in the party, and yet can give the impression of wanting to turn Labour into an anti-capitalist protest movement rather than the next government of the United Kingdom.

Labour is superficially united but in reality it is fragmenting. It has collapsed in Scotland, where the Conservatives, under the resourceful leadership of Ruth Davidson, are resurgent. Where it is not losing to the Tories in England and Wales, Labour is being squeezed by the populist nationalism of Ukip and the unashamed pro-Europeanism of the Liberal Democrats.

Labour’s position on Brexit isn’t helping. The party campaigned to remain in the EU only to be ignored by at least a third of its voters who wanted out. Worse than this, Labour can agree no coherent position on immigration. Corbyn supports freedom of movement and open borders within Europe, which makes the party vulnerable to attack from Ukip.

Corbyn’s aides are determined to relaunch their man as a “left-wing populist”. They want him to make more interventions and more media appearances – to operate as a kind of socialist Nigel Farage.

This isn’t Corbyn’s style. He is at his happiest among true believers, addressing rallies of the faithful or tending to constituency matters. He isn’t fired up by the day-to-day business of the Westminster jamboree, which is why Labour seems so often off the pace or merely silent.

After the failed attempt last summer to oust Corbyn as leader, many Labour MPs are now simply waiting for him to fail on his own terms, in his own way. They feel there is nothing more that they can do. You could call it a death wish.

This week the Fabian Society, a Labour affiliated think tank, got some attention for saying the party “was too weak to win but too strong die”. But this was simply stating the obvious.

Meanwhile, the Unite leader Len McCluskey told the Mirror that Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell would be prepared to resign if the party’s poll ratings had not improved by 2019 – recognition that all is not well even among hardcore Corbynites.

McCluskey, who is caught up in a leadership contest of his own as he campaigns to serve another term as Unite leader, is one of the few individuals within the Labour movement whose power Corbyn fears.

For now, Jeremy Corbyn seems unassailable. He has the backing he needs to continue as leader, and so the good ship Labour sails on into the doldrums from which there may be no return.


On 20 January Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. The leader of the free world will be a reality TV star and property tycoon who has never before held political office or served in the military.

Trump, 70, is an erratic, thin-skinned narcissist and braggart. As President-elect, he has lived down to expectations with his wild tweets and macho posturing.

Trump delights in goading China, which is threatening America’s role as the world’s superpower. He has sided with Russia’s autocratic president Vladimir Putin against Barack Obama. He has casually dismissed claims by the CIA and FBI that Russian state hackers meddled in the US election.He has expressed support for Julian Assange, the reviled WickiLeaks founder who Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, this week called “a sycophant for Russia”.

The influential American commentator David Brooks has a smart phrase for Trump: he calls him the “Snapchat President”. Brooks says Trump’s statements should “probably be treated less like policy declarations and more like Snapchat. They exist to win attention at the moment, but then they disappear.”

Perhaps. But it’s too easy to dismiss Trump, as many did during the Republican primaries and presidential campaign, as a buffoon and big mouth who does not mean what he says.

Sure, he is an attention-seeker but all the evidence suggests that he means exactly what he says and this is why he is such a clear and present danger to the stability of the liberal world order.

We have never seen an American president seemingly as reckless as Donald J. Trump before, and even the Washington elites have no idea what he will say or do next. Cursed are we to live in interesting times.