Nick Cohen, the distinguished writer, said this morning “a Labour Party that puts up Diane Abbott to face Andrew Neil (on his Sunday Politics show) is so deep in the dustbin of history it is composting.” It is very difficult to argue with this; impossible, I’d say. Even under the dead hand of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, there are surely more able people from the Labour front bench than the loose cannon that is Diane Abbott?
It goes without saying that Abbott was dreadful because she always is. It’s the thinking behind choosing her to speak on anything that concerns me more about Labour’s (lack of) direction. For many producers at the BBC, Abbott is the go to politician from the left. It is not because of her great intellect but because of the entertainment she provides, certainly to Labour’s opponents. If I did not know better, her presence in the shadow cabinet appears to suggest a threadbare opposition. I know better because at the moment the Tories have no opposition at all.
The so called Corbyn “bounce” is anything but. In fact, whilst Labour’s polling figure remains at around 29%. the Tories, in the middle of the unpopular bits a government always does in the first year after an election, have ballooned to 42%, a figure that would give them a landslide win in 2020. Even an exact repeat of this year’s figures in 2020 would see the Tories returned to office with an even bigger majority thanks to the impending boundary changes. We are, I appreciate, some five years away from the next election but even now I am beginning to fret about it.
We should not expect Corbyn to come out with a manifesto straight away, but some clue of what he is actually about would be handy. So far, we have had a mish-mash of policy statements, many of which fly in the face of current party policy and indeed the manifesto from 2015 on which all Labour MPs were elected. Corbyn doesn’t seem to have realised just yet that he needs to do more than just speak to those who already agree with him at meetings and marches. He will need to address those who don’t and he probably realises better than most how very awkward that is going to be. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t bothered yet. There won’t be quite so many standing ovations in Worcester or Nuneaton. Or Scotland, for that matter. And Scotland matters. The big myth is that the SNP was elected on left wing tidal wave. If that is the case, Corbyn’s Labour should be set to reclaim its support north of the border. It will certainly be a huge test of his credibility to restore Labour’s fortunes, If he does no better than Miliband, then what’s the point of Corbyn?
The party’s senior officials’ reluctance to discuss their past is difficult too. In fact, Corbyn has a little explaining to do regarding his present too, given the very serious allegations that his leadership bid was supported by the supporters of Hezbollah. You cannot pretend the past didn’t exist, or just hope it all goes away, because it doesn’t. Whether it’s Corbyn’s friends, or Abbott’s opposition to private education to all except her son. That in itself was reason enough for me to lose any respect I might otherwise had for her and she has more than confirmed my doubts about her ever since.
Perhaps it shouldn’t matter than the leaders of the “new politics” are crap communicators and, in Abbott’s case, a blizzard of bluster and confused rhetoric, but it does.
We are in the early days of Corbyn’s leadership and it’s going exactly as I feared it would. And seeing Abbott as a supposedly serious spokesperson for her majesty’s opposition suggests that perhaps the new leaders of Labour are not really all that serious themselves.