Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

A partial defence of Jeremy Corbyn

Owen Smith, the anti-immigration candidate who has risen without trace to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership, has been making hay with this apparent contradiction between Corbyn's current and past statements:

I think I've made it clear that I am not a Corbyn fan. However, it's clear to me that when he said "Article 50 has to be invoked now" on 24 June, he meant "We are now in a situation where Article 50 has to be invoked at some point", and did not think that he was calling for the immediate invocation of Article 50.

It was incompetent of him to express himself in the way that he did, and incompetent not to clarify as rapidly as possible with his real view (whatever that may be) when it became clear that his words were being interpreted in the form that they came out of his mouth rather than the form they had had in his head before he spoke. He expressed himself poorly on the morning after a sleepless night, and failed to absorb any speaking points which might or might not have been prepared for him by party staff. A competent leader would not have made that mistake in the first place, or would have rapidly corrected by scheduling a major interview to set the record straight (and journalists would have been cutting each others' throats to get that interview). But it's a mistake rather than equivocation.

It was a very big mistake, because both the MPs who I linked to in my previous post saw this very statement as effectively the final straw. (Thangam Debbonnaire: "On the day after the referendum he asked for an early Brexit... That was the tipping point for me". Lilian Greenwood: "we heard Jeremy calling for the immediate triggering of Article 50. Without any discussion with the Shadow Cabinet or the Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party... How can that be right?")

For those who had worked closely with him, and who would theoretically have been among those populating the ministerial benches of a Corbyn-led government, it seemed entirely in character for Corbyn to have suddenly adopted a new policy position on a crucial issue of national importance without preparing colleagues for it (never mind consulting them), rather than considering the possibility that he might have misspoken - a possibility that I haven't even seen his supporters raising. It seems that Corbyn's poorly chosen "now" triggered the mass resignations from the shadow cabinet of the following couple of days, and thus was the spark that exploded the current leadership crisis (which looks likely to continue for at least twelve months after Corbyn trounces Smith in the coming ballot).

Needless to say, my analysis doesn't change my view about the urgency for Labour to get a competent leader. For me this isn't about policy at all (there seems little to choose between the two candidates, and where I can discern a difference I generally feel closer to Corbyn's position), it's about two of the most basic political leadership skills: communicating clearly and consistently, and building a good team around you which may well include those who have not always supported you. Corbyn is deeply incompetent on both counts, and the Labour Party and the British political system need and deserve better. The problem is, I'm not convinced that a better option is currently available.
Tags: uk politics

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