November’s events will be studied by politicos for a very long time to come. The experts laughed off his prospects but they are not laughing now. The fake-tanned long shot pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in recent times, after a campaign full of twists and turns and one or two hair-raising moments. But enough about Ed Balls making it through to Blackpool on Strictly, what about that Donald Trump?
Labour’s leadership saw Trump’s win as a vindication of Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy. Emily Thornberry was first on the airwaves talking up the comparison between the two, while Corbyn released a statement which stopped just short of saying he was the best leader ever, folks, unlike that crooked Theresa, and you better believe we are going to start winning so much you are going to be sick of winning.
The only sense in which Corbyn and Trump are similar is that they are both deeply unpopular in Britain. Labour is polling on average 14 points behind the Conservatives, and the polls likely overstate our support. The evidence of the last few elections show support in Labour heartlands is retreating and Corbyn’s weaknesses on defence and immigration are a lifeline for the United Kingdom Independence party in the north. Labour’s leader is a stubborn career politician with unashamedly liberal tendencies in a post-liberal age, meaning he will pile up votes in university towns and fall behind in swing seats.
All of this suggests Corbyn is closer to the vanquished Democrat establishment than he likes to think.
Learning lessons from other parties is very old politics. Apart from Jonathan Ashworth’s recent visit to Canada, there has been little international cooperation. Where there has been any, it has not been positive: the German Social Democratic party’s deputy said Corbyn had made a ‘big mistake’ over Brexit, while the Israeli Labor party’s invitation to visit was rejected.
These are deeply desperate times for the centre-left. A little more cooperation would not be a bad thing.
Brexit plus (everything else)
No wonder that Thornberry has the time to compare Corbyn to the president-elect. She has made no secret of the fact she was a little miffed at losing the Brexit brief from her shadow foreign secretary job. This was confirmed when, at a meeting in Brussels, she introduced Keir Starmer as a ‘member of her team’. One assumes she was put straight. She will be doubly irritated that the new political adviser she advertised for last month has to be shared with Starmer.
Anyone who has spent time working for frontbench teams will have a great deal of sympathy for the poor new adviser. On their to-do list is helping develop consistent Labour lines not just on Brexit, but on Islamic State in Iraq, Islamic State in Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Trump’s America … Good luck. Your insider recommends a tactical lunchtime pint in one of parliament’s bars as a coping mechanism.
Starmer has taken the Brexit job in his stride, as you might expect from someone with his experience. But if there is a palpable sense that Labour is still in a muddle on Europe, it is largely down to the leadership.
Corbyn’s attempt at setting ‘Brexit bottom lines’ last month unravelled as soon as he admitted Labour would not block Article 50, nor call for a second referendum.
No mourning, just organising
Also possibly finding themselves negotiating terms of exit soon are those at the top of Momentum, after a difficult few weeks for the Corbynista cult following their man’s re‑election as leader.
The problems started almost as soon as Corbyn won. With their shared aim achieved, any veil of unity fell away to reveal various hard-left groups doing what hard-left groups always do: fall out with each other. Momentum lost crucial votes at party conference, descended into a civil war over the group’s future, and have fallen back in a number of key local parties – thanks to good moderate organisation. The group’s spokesman, James Schneider (I am obliged to remind readers of his ex-Liberal, ex-Tory, ex-Green background) spends more time in the leader’s office these days.
Nowhere were Momentum’s setbacks clearer than in London, where the party’s regional conference was notable for a string of defeats for the hard-left. Local party delegates responded to pathetic attempts at a backroom stitch-up by electing the moderate Ellie Reeves as vice-chair. Across the capital, notably in the south London seats still haunted by memories of the ‘loony left’ which ruined the boroughs in the 1980s, the story is of moderates winning.
It means that a number of Labour MPs and councillors who had been targeted for deselection are now safer. After being pushed back by moderates at a recent constituency Labour party AGM, one London Momentum group carried out a post-mortem via email, to which your insider was privy. The most telling email in the chain came from a Momentum committee member, who blamed the ‘clicktivists’ for voting for Corbyn and then failing to turn up on the night.
It is a line that many Labour MPs will recognise. It also explains why Labour managed to double its membership in Witney and still halve its vote in the recent byelection. The party is still on a ‘general election footing’ according to elections supremo Jon Trickett, so presumably there is a plan to get them out on the doors. If not, ideas for Twitter storms on a postcard, please.
Cartoon: Adrian Teal
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