As I See It
Class war is not the answer, Comrade Corbyn
Since her accession to Downing Street in the wake of last summer’s Tory debacle over Europe, Theresa May’s agenda has been dominated by a single item, and all that flows from it.
Europe was always her party’s Achilles Heel and, given that there will be no going back, getting out of the EU (in the fullness of times) should bring an end to this internecine warfare which, on occasion has threatened to tear the party apart.
A healing of these divisions is not the only relief that the Prime Minister and her party may face with alacrity. Bitter fall-outs from the referendum are being assuaged by a Labour opposition which is fast heading towards its own implosion.
Take the events of the few days. First came former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s puzzling call for opposition to the Brexit deal which was not only at odds with party policy but was seen to show a lack of respect for the referendum result.
If the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn thought his predecessor’s comments were unhelpful the loss of the Cumbrian seat of Copeland in Thursday’s by-election was disastrous. It was the first victory by an incumbent government for 35 years in a seat that was not even marginal. Furthermore, Labour had held it since before the second world war.
Only victory in Stoke on the same day against the shambles that it is UKIP enabled Mr Corbyn to find some solace. Of course, it did not stop the anti-Corbyn machine revving up once more to heap more scorn on what is increasingly seen as an out of touch left wing leadership.
For Scottish Labour, the timing could not have been worse. As the bad news from Copeland emerged, its leader Kezia Dugdale was preparing her party for its conference in Perth. At least she had the decency to admit that the result “was not what we had expected”.
Ms Dugdale, after flirting with some dubious ideas about relocating the House of Lords and trying to stop MSPs having business interests, is doing her best to convince her dwindling supporters that Scottish Labour has a coherent strategy.
Sadly for her, while she chips away on the Scottish government’s increasingly vulnerable record on education, the economy and the NHS, voters appear happy with Nicola Sturgeon’s iron grip on her own party and the country. According to the psephologists, the First Minister ought by now to be at the height of her unpopularity. But this is another Westminster trend that seems not to have made the journey north.
Indeed, Ms Sturgeon’s party is also making a reasonable fist at providing opposition to Mrs May in London. Labour, meanwhile, searches in vain for a way out of a political vacuum in both parliaments.
In Westminster there is no further point in arguing over EU membership, whatever Mr Blair may say. On the economy, the weakening of the pound has pushed up prices, resulting in some casualties, but there has been no evidence of a Brexit meltdown. The lower valuation of sterling has helped exporters. On both counts, Mrs May now has a clear and almost unopposed run until the next General Election.
In Scotland Labour’s search for fresh ideas is proving patchy. A local election campaign built around raising personal taxes at a time when voters are feeling the squeeze from higher prices in the shops is not the brightest of ideas. Voters rarely choose self-sacrifice even to provide a few bob more for ‘cash-starved’ schools and hospitals. Many have become cynical about such policies, believing that the money raised from higher taxes would not make any real difference.
Labour is also trying to take the constitutional argument in a different direction. Ms Dugdale and senior figures in the party have committed Labour to federalism, arguably one of its more credible policy statements of recent times.
Federalism, as argued here on occasions, is a more workable solution to the dissemination of power than the current devolutionary set-up and its ‘one foot in, one foot out’ arrangement. Federalism that gives all parts of the UK a power base reporting to a UK-wide authority would remove a large part of the conflict politics which is built into the devolution ‘settlement’.
It deserves a hearing. Unfortunately, Labour looks unelectable in Westminster for a generation and so it looks like another policy plan that is destined to remain on the shelf.
Mr Corbyn does not help his cause by using outdated left wing language regarded as divisive and hostile. Referring to the Perth delegates as ‘comrades’ is even more out of tune with the times than when it was used by another of his predecessors, Michael Foot, in the 1980s.
The current leader re-packaged his recent address in Glasgow to blame the SNP for failing to use the powers devolved to it, and the Tories for building an unequal society in thrall to the rich and powerful elites who deny rights to ordinary working people.
Unfortunately for Mr Corbyn, the ‘people’ are not convinced by these arguments, as they showed him in Copeland last week.