Monday 28 March 2016

Is Jeremy Corbyn an Effective Leader?

According to his many detractors inside and out the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn is perceived to be an ineffective opposition leader. Quite apart from his politics, the standard line is he just isn't very good at the business of opposing. As I'm someone who unfashionably believes in the utility of thinking about things critically, it is reasonable to state that assertions (Jeremy's no good) have to be backed up by evidence (here's why Jeremy's no good). So let's have a look.

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.


Phil said...

there haven't been any real tests yet (I don't count the excellent Oldham by-election result),

No offence, but you would if it had been bad. Corbyn's opponents certainly wouldn't have forgotten about it as quickly as they did.

As for what those guys stand for, please, don't get them started. What they should stand for is success for the Labour Party, starting with the May elections. Jarvis & Reeves' fantasy politics is almost as much of a distraction from that task as Phillips' motormouthery and Woodcock's outright attacks.

Incidentally, it's Short money, not 'short money' - Edward Short.

Dave Cohen said...

Agree almost totally... and would add that the leadership has traveled some way towards the PLP on important issues including Europe and government spending. Unfortunately, the one issue on which Jeremy refuses to compromise - Trident - is the most divisive in the party, and continues to give his enemies the perfectly sound argument that his 'open debate' and 'kinder gentler politics' project is over before it begins.

Phil said...

Also, what would John Woodcock be saying now if Liz Kendall had been elected last September and cut the Tory lead from 12% to 2% in her first six months?

David Timoney said...

I think you over-estimate the impact of PMQs. What influences popular sentiment is quantity more than quality. When the news is dominated by Tory cockups, Labour prospers. When it's dominated by internecine criticism, Labour suffers. The renewed attempt to make Corbyn the only item on the agenda will please no one more than Cameron.

Speedy said...

You over-egg all this stuff. If Milliband had had the same policies but have been Blair, he would have won.

Little that Corbyn can do will shift the long-established attitudes toward him, and this will become apparent at the next general election.

Organized Rage. said...

The more rope Cameron is given the better for Corbyn Labour. Arrogance, ignorance and pomposity never goes down well where I come from. In the PMQ debate over the silly list that is exactly how the PM behaved, not once, not twice but three times. To top it all amongst the Tory benches behind him were those who are knifing Dave in the back over the EU. No one likes a bully and that is how Dave appeared, why, because he is a nasty piece of work and cannot help himself when his opponent doest follow the westminster script. Which incidentally was written to display a PM well not the opposition leader, and even with this help Cameron fails. Once his face goes scarlet for him the games up.

The point is voters will increasingly come see Corbyn as a cool head who will not be bullied or diverted from making his point and more importantly he is never cowered. If Labours rightwing were doing their jobs they would be pointing this out by highlighting the imported issues the Tories have pulled back from since he became party leader. (see Phil's list) But no, instead they carp like windbags about Jeremy's personality. Does any party member truly believe these named individuals could lead the party adequately, let alone defeat Corbyn in a fair contest, Please.

Corbyn Labour is not about the odd front page of praise, nor do they wish to see Labour MPs behaving like Tories during PMQs, nor in the lead in to the EU referendum. This had got to be a different way of doing politics, instead of moaning comrades, and colleagues should enjoy the ride, it might take us somewhere extremely interesting.

Unknown said...

I wondered what your thoughts were on MPs - the likes of John Woodcock claiming that he and others are being targeted by members of the 'far left' as part of a 'plot'. ? I thought it was the most irrational nonsense I've ever seen but curious to your thoughts on it.


Organized Rage. said...

I agree with Lisa about far left plot, you couldn't make it up, Woodcock and others are actively engaged in plotting against Corbyn and he accuses others of plotting. I knew he was a twerp when he posted that tweet accusing Corbyn of giving ammo to Tories. The fact he almost immediately deleted it speaks volumes about his lack of the little grey cells as Hercule Poirot might say.

BCFG said...

We know one thing for certain, whatever Corbyn does the Blairite Yvette Cooper loving centre left will criticise him for it. It is just a shame that Corbyn is unable to purge these unwanted elements. The party members should be more insistent that the Blairite tory lite party wreckers are expelled from the party.

Corbyn’s response to the budget was perfectly reasonable. What did you want him to do, call Cameron an evil fuckwit? Seriously he articulated his criticism and then immediately set up a petition against it. New labour would have been applauding these consistent attacks on the poor and weak as a necessary measure to bring down the deficit. They would just be arguing he should be doing it more slowly!

And no one could control IDS resigning, as soon as that happened whatever Corbyn or anyone else did was outside their control.

New labour want us to follow another tory lite smug and slick looking salesman. I say the time has come to put policy before superficiality. This is the progressive thing to do.

Isaac said...

Don't You just love the people like BCFG who spout forth on what Corbyn and his supporters in the LP should and shouldn't do. Its not long ago that he and others like him were declaring the LP as dead as a dodo, and all the workers within it deluded dupes, or lackeys of capital.

My guess is thaT bcfg (whatever kind of moniker is that) has never seen the inside of a LP or TU meeting in his/her life.

Lidl Janus said...

"Is Jeremy Corbyn an Effective Leader?"

Policy-wise, he's George McGovern posting multiple citizenship applications to Beijing. Conventional wisdom says this is a bad idea, and whilst conventional wisdom has been wrong in recent years, it's rarely been wrong in Labour's favour.

Mangerial-wise, being way out of step with the PLP was never going to make the job easy, but Corbyn seems to have a weird lack of enthusiasm for it. The reports you hear are of Seumas Milne pulling all the strings, the news will often feature Ken Livingstone gobshiteing everywhere, and the reported reason why he ran is because the leftmost contingent of the PLP - McDonnell, Abbott et al - said "it's your turn". Given his election seemed to be about a) the mood in the wider Labour Party and b) perceived policy/worldview, perhaps the Corbynite wing would have been better off if McDonnell had ran again, regardless of whose turn it was.