Another dispatch from inside the Westminster village
Something is just not working. No matter how much he tries, Jeremy Corbyn just cannot find any peace and quiet.
There was only one thing that could fix this: a brief foray into the world for a relaunch. We know it was a relaunch because it was briefed as such, thus putting more pressure on a leader who would crack and accuse you of harassment if you asked him for directions to the station. Your insider has some quibbles with the strategy of briefing the media that your man needs a relaunch, but let us give team Corbyn the benefit of the doubt here. After all, political veterans will remember other global figures who made successful relaunches, like when William Hague stopped wearing a baseball cap, or the time Coca-Cola put tap water from Sidcup in bottles and tried to sell it.
Alongside polls which suggested every social and age group now thinks Theresa May would make the best prime minister – though she faces stiff competition from the unofficial leader of the opposition, ‘don’t know’ – immigration remains a top issue for voters.
So to Peterborough, for a big speech on immigration. The message of the speech – Labour is no longer ‘wedded’ to free movement as a principle but actually it might be – was sufficiently wishy-washy to hold together the Corbyn coalition, elements of which sees defence of immigration as a non-negotiable red line.
Something has to give. The leader’s office knows they can retain broad hard-left support for Corbyn, or they can have a credible appeal to working-class people on immigration. They cannot have both.
Perhaps that constant balancing act was behind Jon Lansman’s top-down restructuring of Momentum, which will see some non-Labour members – including the genuine (or, at least, honest) Trotskyists – turfed out. Faced with internal opposition, Lansman has acted like a sulking monarch and seized control. What Lansman giveth, Lansman can taketh away.
In preparation for the ‘reforms’, Lansman temporarily hands over the reins of Momentum Campaigns (Services) Ltd to his sidekick Christine Shawcroft. It will surprise no one that he has not relinquished control of Jeremy for Labour – formerly Momentum Campaigns Ltd – which holds all the data on his subjects.
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Eyes are on Labour strongholds Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central for the next collision between Labour and the electorate.
Astute observers will have noted election supremo Jon Trickett took a leading role on the panel for shortlisting candidates in Copeland. Alongside the aforementioned Momentum temporary owner Shawcroft and another notable leftwinger, Trickett fronts this apparent attempt to ‘own’ the challenge Corbyn’s team faces. Moderates were excluded from the shortlist and it is rumoured that the favoured candidate had the membership list in advance. The heavy-handed involvement of the leader’s office totally backfired. Non-Momentum Gillian Troughton was selected with the help of fellow councillors, not outsiders. James Schneider – spin doctor for Corbyn – who was in Copeland for the selection meeting, bemoaned process for holding back his candidate. Your insider hears that comrades in his own ranks politely pointed out that the leader’s office had taken total control of the process – freeze dates and deadlines included – and were free to do so as Jamie Reed had not yet resigned from parliament. ‘Take control’ might not be working but it is the only strategy they have: months of relative peace in the parliamentary party leaves them without an enemy to blame for Labour’s continuing poor performance.
Grumblings from members of parliament of all persuasions that there is not much going on in parliament are all too common these days. Largely thanks to a government with a small majority and an even smaller list of things to do, there has been no real pressure on MPs to turn up to debates or contribute to legislation.
With only one European Union-shaped show in town, the sense of drift is palpable. Select committees are providing not inconsiderable opposition to the executive, and various backbench groups are churning out policy proposals, but there is little else happening in the chamber. Some MPs are choosing to spend the time building their own personal networks – including those with an eye on the position of speaker of the House of Commons.
John Bercow, who was nearly felled in an attempted coup in the dying days of the coalition government, is a popular and outward looking speaker but having pledged to serve for nine years, his time will be up in 2018.
The list of Labour MPs mulling a run, according to those subjected to quiet lobbying, includes the popular deputy Lindsay Hoyle. Well-liked by many Tories (in contrast to Bercow), Hoyle already takes charge of set-piece events like the budget, of which there will be two this year for him to preside over. Chris Bryant – a great defender of parliament and a scholar of its history – has an outside chance. Arch-traditionalist Jacob Rees-Mogg is likely to be the Tory contender. Considering the feeling within Labour about the all-male leadership, expect similar (and justified) commotion if a woman does not come forward. This could be Jess Phillips’ first test as chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party.
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