WHO is the Leader of the Opposition? Officially there is but one answer to this question. However, it is not the correct answer.
The arithmetic during the current Parliamentary crisis means it would have been possible for the government to be brought down. There was a plan was for a Government of National Unity to replace it, led, naturally, by a ‘unity’ figure. The most obvious candidate would have been the leader of the largest opposition party. If this person had been any of the losing 2015 Labour leadership candidates, this is exactly what would have happened. But because the person was Jeremy Corbyn, this was an impossible prospect. For the alliance opposing Brexit or No Deal, a Corbyn-led government was seen as a worse than leaving with No Deal.
This undesirability was even on the basis of Corbyn promising to be no more than a ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister. But there is no such position as a caretaker Prime Minister. A British MP is either a Prime Minister or not. The last time this term was applied, it was for Winston Churchill after Labour left the wartime coalition following the defeat of Germany in 1945. But it was always an unofficial term. The Second World War had ended in Europe but the 14th Army was still fighting the Japanese in Burma. Decisions over the future of Europe had to be taken and Churchill was involved in them. He attended the Potsdam conference as a full participant, handing over to Attlee partway through.
Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister would have been Jeremy Corbyn as an actual Prime Minister. There was no discussion as to how the limitation of powers as a caretaker would have taken place, and also how limited those powers would especially have to be because the caretaker was Jeremy Corbyn.
So the Remain Alliance missed out because of Jeremy Corbyn. He could not even bear to attend the public meeting or affix his signature to the large declaration opposing the prorogation of Parliament as the other party leaders did because he was ‘stuck in meetings’, sending John McDonnell to do the work instead. It would have been interesting to find out exactly what those meetings were that could not be rescheduled. It is possible that Corbyn did not want to be seen personally to oppose the use of prorogation as a political tool, as that could restrict his future conduct should he be given the chance to establish the socialist dictatorship he so dearly desires.
Corbyn seems to have given up on a vote of no confidence as well. Even though the knife-edge parliamentary arithmetic might appear to be in his favour, the prospect of Corbyn as the alternative will prevent this. There are sufficient MPs on the opposition benches who will refuse to back Corbyn, some even from his own party.
Thus Corbyn has no real mandate in Parliament and this is because of who he is and for what he stands. We already know that 80 per cent of Labour MPs had no confidence in him as party leader in 2016. Despite the 2017 General Election and a new intake of Corbynites to the opposition benches, that percentage will have not reduced much. If the Leader of the Opposition had been Yvette Cooper, then events would have been radically different and strongly in Labour’s favour. Corbyn’s mandate rests solely on the fact that Labour allowed the Hard Left to surge into the party from all the fringe organisations and the Green Party without too much background checking. The boast that the membership is the largest in Europe is hollow. In an adult population of 30-40million, the fact that there would be at least 1-2 per cent who are Left-wing extremists bent on an irrevocable socialist one-party republic is not too surprising. All that has happened is instead of these extremists being in numerous variations of the Judean People’s Front, they are now all in the Labour Party.
Corbyn’s lacklustre performance during the referendum probably lost Remain the vote. Labour supporters stayed at home or voted Leave. The fact of him and his fellow travellers running Labour has sabotaged continuity Remain. Corbyn has prioritised political advantage over Brexit debate.
It is ironic, but the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is official Leader of the Opposition is sabotaging opposition to the government. A more able leader would have brought down the government by now. The departure of Mrs May might be a trophy in Corbyn’s cabinet, but it is the only one. His part in her downfall was marginal, and that she lasted as long as she did is down to him and his politics. If the alternative to Theresa May was Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May was the default. Labour’s rising popularity was due to Mrs May faltering as Prime Minister and not Corbyn’s own qualities.
Corbyn will never resign, even after further electoral defeat. So far he has not won any election, which is astonishing in this part of the electoral cycle. He comes from the political tradition where a person made leader stays there for life. There is also no anointed successor who would be able to carry on in the same way. Corbyn’s appeal was developed from decades of networking with the vilest elements in domestic and foreign politics. No one else in Labour has sunk to the same depths as Corbyn and stayed there for so long.
So Labour are stuck with Corbyn. And everything Corbyn touches turns to disaster. He briefly thrived because Mrs May was the only possible successor to David Cameron, as I outlined in a previous article. At his first encounter with Boris Johnson over the despatch box, Corbyn got a good pummelling. He should expect this every time from now on. Meanwhile, Labour are stuck with Corbyn until reasons of health intervene. His office tells us Corbyn is very healthy for a 70-year-old. But he is not the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament apart from in nominative terms. The post is vacant.