Mr. Jeremy Corbyn – 16th September 2015
By the time that you read this article you may have had the opportunity to watch, across the despatch boxes of the House of Commons, the first engagement between The Prime Minister and the newly elected Leader of Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
I would hope and expect that Mr. Cameron will have treated Mr.Corbyn with the courtesy and respect that the holder of the latter`s office deserves. While I doubt that there were many who were astute enough to place a bet with the bookmakers at the odds of 500/1 on offer when Mr. Corbyn first managed to scrape together the endorsements necessary to secure a place on the ballot paper for the Leadership of the Labour Party the end result was, in itself, not particularly surprising when it arrived. What most did find astonishing, though, was the scale of the defeat that Mr. Corbyn inflicted upon his opponents. Sixty per cent of the vote on the first ballot and the support of more than 250,000 of those Members and others registered to vote is rightly described as a “landslide” and gives the new leader a moral authority and a mandate that is greater than that offered to any other Party leader under democratic rules within living memory.
It may surprise some to know that I have been, in my time, a member of not one but four trades unions. I have fought and helped to win, within British Actors` Equity (I am the only Member of the House of Commons who is still a fully paid-up member), battles to prevent the takeover of my union by the Socialist Workers` Party and fellow travellers. I know, from first-hand experience, how the hard left are well-versed in the use of the rulebook to secure advantage and it is clear from the result of Labour`s leadership contest that Mr. Corbyn has mobilised the franchise changes introduced by Ed Miliband to achieve his spectacular success. It was Iain Duncan-Smith who once famously said “do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man” and although IDS was subsequently removed from office as Leader of the Conservative Party Mr Corbyn, with a reputation for quiet courtesy himself, should not be under-estimated.
I have known Jeremy Corbyn for the entirety of his thirty-two years in the House of Commons for we entered parliament together on June 9th 1983. Since that time he has held resolutely to beliefs that are emphatically polar opposites to my own but which I respect, he has been a prominent member of the left-wing `awkward squad` and until recently he has carried out his duties assiduously, as I have myself, from the relative obscurity of the back-benches. A quirk of fate – he was persuaded by colleagues on the left to carry the red People`s Flag with no real thought or initial prospect of success – and some very skilful campaigning have propelled him not just into the limelight but into what must be regarded as high office. Unlike the emergence of the largely politically ineffectual and failed Mr. Farage on the right, Mr Corbyn now heads not only a major and historic political party but the Opposition. To him, and the team that he has chosen, falls the serious task of holding the Government to account. How successful he will be and whether he will survive to lead Old Labour into the next General Election in 2020 only time will tell.
In the interim the Government benches are presented with an opportunity and a responsibility that must not be squandered. With the swing of the pendulum back to the 1970s there are tens of thousands of those on the centre-left that, following the electoral collapse of the Liberal Party, are effectively disenfranchised. It might be superficially tempting to seize the moment to ram through the policies of the hard right but to do so would demonstrate a contempt for the electorate for which the Conservative Party would ultimately itself pay a considerable price.
While honouring or Conservative manifesto commitments, which we remain entitled and required to implement, and continuing to act in the national interest to grow the economy and to reduce, as a consequence, the benefits bill, we need to continue to demonstrate the ability to be a genuinely one-nation administration, to be fair and to be just and to reach out to those who at present must feel that they have no political home to go to.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn is the reaction, on the left, to the disillusion generated by the lack of ideal and conviction generated by the synthetic “New Labour” project. It is up to us, in the Conservative Party, to seek to ensure that that disillusion is not mirrored to the right of the political spectrum and that faith in mainstream politics is restored.