Why Labour must use the Tory leadership to get their voice heard – before it’s too late.
I shall begin where I ended last week… our new prime minister is being selected by 0.25% of the population, 81% of whom did not vote Tory in the European elections. This is a democratic obscenity, made more obscene every time any of them protests that a People’s Vote on the Brexit s**tshow would be an affront to the ‘will of the people’.
Yes, it is ‘the system’, that Tory MPs choose a shortlist of two, and Tory members choose the winner; and yes, as some protested when I did the maths last week, ‘how many people voted for Gordon Brown to be prime minister?’ But there is, beyond the obvious talent gap between Gordon and the contenders to replace Theresa May, a very big difference… Gordon had been chancellor for a decade and thus a key part of a government which had been deemed successful enough to have been elected three times. When he took over, very few people, home or abroad, put head in hands and groaned ‘oh my God, what on earth have they done?’
Believe me, having been in various capitals of Europe and Asia in recent weeks, even before the Tory leadership s**tshow is properly underway, let alone drawn to whatever ghastly conclusion 0.25% of the population, 81% of whom did not vote Tory in the European elections, will inflict upon us, people around the world are looking on with total bewilderment. “What on earth is happening to your country?” You hear it everywhere you go. Then you come back home, and people here are feeling the same, even more intensely because it concerns us more directly, yet for the most part politics and media carry on as though this is the most normal state of affairs.
Newsreaders put on their best serious face, and give the latest updates on who took what drugs two decades ago. Then party grandees and two-way blatherers opine on what effect this will have on the 0.25% of the population, 81% of whom did not vote Tory in the European elections, who will decide the identity of our PM. ‘It is not clear that the blue rinses will appreciate the fact Mr Gove snorted cocaine, albeit when he was not an MP’ – these words are part of the new normal in Failed State Britain, whose main State broadcaster news bulletin plays in its lead item clips of Boris Johnson making jokes about snorting cocaine on Have I Got News For You? I’ll tell you what is happening to our country – we are a democratic satire, being laughed at by countries we used to run.
Even the Labour Party media monitoring report, from whose mailing list I was excised some time ago, but which a kind soul in the party forwards to me each morning, is currently dominated by a mass of half-baked ideas coming from the half-baked contenders. To take last Sunday alone, Boris Johnson was telling us he wouldn’t pay the money we owe the EU and he would renegotiate the Northern Ireland backstop – good luck with that one, chancer. Esther McVey was also holding back the £39 billion but using the proceeds for a public sector pay rise. Michael Gove, who needed a biggie to shift the agenda from his coke-snorting days, was scrapping VAT! Wow… not clear whether the £39 billion would pay for that too. Jeremy Hunt was ‘wooing the young’ with an interest rate cut on student loans, promising a “housing revolution” – he is going to build one and a half million homes for us – sorting climate change and pledging mental health support in every school. Shame he never thought of that when he was health secretary for six years and mental health was a ‘priority’. Then he went to unwoo the young he had been wooing by saying he would lower the abortion limit from 24 to 12 weeks. Dominic Raab was avoiding detail, going for a simple promise to “save a country on its knees”. Jesus… who put it there?
Just remember this, these people are waking up each day and telling themselves not only that they could be PM, but that they should be. Johnson, who by common consent among diplomats at home and ministers abroad, was the worst, the laziest, the least serious, the least disciplined, the most cavalier foreign secretary we have ever had, now thinks he can do a job ten times more challenging and complicated; Raab who helped negotiate a deal so bad he felt compelled to resign over it; McVey who has never fully explained, or been held to account over, the lies she told as work and pensions secretary about Universal Credit; Sajid Javid who is banking everything on the back story – his dad was a bus driver, who knew? – not realising that you need a forward story too; Matt Hancock who sounds like he is permanently about to say something significant if only he could stop buffering; Rory Stewart who looks like he is auditioning to take over from the shouty Scottish guy who presents Coast; Andrea Leadsom… (that’s enough useless contenders for a job being decided by 0.25% of the population, 81% of whom did not vote Tory in the European elections – Ed-at-Large.)
It is so bad that when I checked onto Twitter and saw a tweet that “Chris Grayling enters the leadership race”, I was half gob-smacked, half totally unsurprised, before realising it was a jokey retweet comment on top of a Sky News report that “a man has left a rucksack full of drugs on a tram in Manchester – along with his full name and address”.
In addition to the chronic lack of self-awareness required by this shower to think they could do the job at all, let alone do it better than the admittedly hopeless Theresa May, they also need the help of a pliant media, who report on their slogans and opinings as though they were coming from serious people, and who barely touch upon relevant questions about their past, unless it concerns, er, drugs. If I were Gove, I would much rather be quizzed on the damage to his nasal membranes than the damage he did to our schools, or the mess his and Johnson’s lies helped inflict by winning the referendum. Johnson has clearly decided, and is being allowed to get away with, only to do media that guarantees few tricky questions asked about his political or personal past, headlines based on the latest slogan, dutifully regurgitated all day by the BBC etc.
Even after the lies and the manipulations of the referendum, the media is letting the same politicians play exactly the same game. Give us a new line, guys, and we will give you an easy ride. When the public inquiry comes, the media must be part of it.
There is a problem with the opposition too. When a Tory leadership election is going on, as we know from long experience, it is hard for Labour to get heard. So you have to fight even harder. But they appear to have taken their foot off the gas yet again. Having narrowly held on in the Peterborough by-election, where the Labour share fell 17%, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted a few days later: “Two years ago today the country went to the polls in the snap general election Theresa May called. The Labour movement united and we took away the Tories’ majority, leaving them in office but not in power. The result in Peterborough shows we’re ready to finish the job.”
The first two sentences are true. The third is not. It reflects a complacency as worrying in its own way as the lack of self-awareness among these Tories who Labour, not the Brexit Party, should be absolutely destroying. Perhaps I should have held my counsel, and may have been motivated not to by the continuing failure of the Labour Party to deal with my appeal against expulsion, now in the hands of lawyers, but I tweeted in reply: “Eighteen years ago today I was back at my desk in Downing Street after Tony Blair won a second successive three-figure majority through strong leadership, clear strategy and policies that worked for the many not the few.”
Labour should be all over the Tory leadership content, and through the force of campaign message and core argument getting their voice heard as part of the debate. Some 0.25% of the population, 81% of whom did not vote Tory in the European elections, are choosing the next prime minister, and it is likely to be the liar who did most to inflict Brexit in the first place. If Labour can’t mount a campaign on that democratic scandal, beyond merely calling for a general election they are unlikely to get soon, then I worry about their capacity to win that election when finally it comes.
And when Johnson trots out the line – unchallenged – that if he becomes prime minister he will lead a “new administration with a new mandate”, it is just the latest in the long litany of lies from his public and private life. It is a lie that needs to be nailed before he gets there, because if it is not, then, like the lies of the referendum, by the time the truth is clear, it might well be too late.