John Woodcock widely-trailed article sees him take Jeremy to task for 'the list' (the providence of which is not at all fishy) and for flailing last Monday and Wednesday up against the Prime Minister. Not mentioning the welcome exit of IDS and not capitalising on the worst weekend of Dave's time in office condemn Jeremy as "a nice man who is doing his best ... [but] people are being appallingly served by a leadership team who cannot even get its act together properly to stand up for disabled people when they are screwed over by the Tories." To boil John's complaint down further, Jeremy's problem is he's not much of a player when it comes to the Westminster game. Gift horses open their mouths and all the leader can do is stare. Divisions in the Tories aren't exploited, tough questions aren't getting asked, and ministers routinely bat away whatever is asked by the benches opposite.
I would partly accept John's assessment. By not abiding by the established conventions of parliamentary cut and thrust, more often than not Dave runs rings around him (remember, the PM's one undoubted talent is being able to look the part), while Jeremy handles the jibes simply by ignoring them and pressing on with his next question. Frustrating for PLP folks and the wider membership invested in the importance of thumping performances at the dispatch box, and a cause for concern seeing as edited versions are rotated on the evening's news programmes. It's the only bit of parliamentary procedure that finds a mass audience.
Yet this isn't the whole story. Labour has substantive achievements to its credit since Jeremy became leader. The party has forced government u-turns on plans to charge VAT on solar panels, on cuts to policing and short money, have scuppered plans for Sunday trading, secured a backtrack on plans to build a prison in Saudi Arabia, and most significantly inflicted heavy political damage on the Tories over plans to cut disability support and working tax credits. These last two achievements are particularly noteworthy. Cast your mind back to the leadership contest last summer and Harriet Harman's ill-fated decision to direct the PLP to abstain on the vote to cut child tax credits. As I've argued before, it was this more than anything that lit a rocket underneath Jeremy's leadership campaign. By rebelling against the whip, along with 40-odd other MPs, and stating categorically that Labour should be against this sort of thing (which, of course, it should), Jeremy pushed the party beyond five years of conditional wishy-washy to outright opposition against Tory attacks on social security recipients. Changing political debate from a discussion about how to manage cuts to the incomes of the poorest to stark questions of whether they're right or wrong is no mean feat, regardless of your views about Jeremy's politics. And this strong stand then has changed the political weather. The likes of Dan Hodges and friends might think going hard in defence of welfare is political suicide, but it's because of that position the Tories have been forced into its recent difficulties and their name once again drips with toxicity. Do you think the budget fiasco, IDS's resignation, and the government's sort-of pledge to leave social security alone for the remainder of this parliament would have happened had Jeremy not been elected? Looking at all the candidates, including the one I supported, the honest answer has to be no.
So on the one hand, Jeremy isn't that good on the day-to-day niceties of his leadership role. But more broadly speaking, he has chalked up many more successes than his predecessor had achieved in the first six months, and changed the political weather, to the Tories' cost. The real measure of efficacy, however, is in terms of electoral performance - it has always been thus as far as the Labour Party is concerned. As there haven't been any real tests yet (I don't count the excellent Oldham by-election result), those opposed to Jeremy can point to the polls as evidence of his lack of traction, polls that we now know have a tendency to overstate Labour's support. These ... have not been good. However, there has been a shift. YouGov gave Labour a single point lead last week - its first under Jeremy. And others are showing convergence. While I think we should be doing much better than this, the majority of the membership are nevertheless sold on the slow-and-steady leader's approach and see polling movement in our direction as vindication. Who needs triangulation?
Therefore, the fair minded conclusion about Jeremy's efficacy has to be that the jury's still out. I tend toward the sceptical but Jeremy's support have a strong argument at the moment that will ensure talks of coups and plots will remain just that. But that begs another question. For those who think Jeremy is rubbish, what would a better alternative look like? Is it all about the polling numbers and that's it? Do they need to lead rather than follow opinion? Have they got to trounce Dave and whoever his successor is each week in PMQs? Must they have a compelling vision that can reach into the four corners of Britain? The problem is I don't think Jeremy's opponents themselves know. Dan Jarvis has a backstory that many believe recommends him to the country. Angela Eagle has proven herself a deadly effective interrogator of her opposite numbers. Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper have the brains, and Jess Phillips has her mouth. But what advantages and weaknesses do they have vis a vis Jeremy, what do they stand for, and how would any of them be more effective? Querying the leader's efficacy is one thing, providing an alternative that can convince is something else.