Kenny MacAskill: Brave Tory and Labour MPs must bypass Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn had a good start to his Labour leadership but, on Brexit, he has shown himself to be as bad as ‘headless chicken’ Theresa May, writes Kenny MacAskill.
The cries of Oh Jeremy Corbyn have faded as he has failed to live up to his early promise (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty)The cries of Oh Jeremy Corbyn have faded as he has failed to live up to his early promise (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty)
The cries of Oh Jeremy Corbyn have faded as he has failed to live up to his early promise (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty)

Theresa May increasingly resembles a headless chicken running dementedly around Westminster’s corridors scrambling together a coalition on Brexit, with her red lines, never mind the national interest, long since obscured. Now she departs for Brussels to flap her wings and stamp her feet when all along she’s been told her new demands are undeliverable. The danger is she’s moving the EU from contempt to anger which could be damaging for us all.

The tragedy is that facing her across the despatch box is Jeremy Corbyn who more and more appears to be the political reincarnation of the dodo. His leadership looks ever more vacuous and insipid when, as the official Leader of the Opposition, he should be dominating the airwaves demanding answers.

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Instead, he has run for cover and those who are left to champion the official Labour leadership line seem incapable of a joined-up message, let alone a coherent strategy.

For sure, many of the heavyweights retired to the backbenches following his election but the bright and able ones like Keir Starmer are constrained or curtailed. Even capable allies like his friend John McDonnell seem devoid of a coherent line and others who often appear either openly contradict each other or are incapable of even a competent argument. The contribution of some shadow cabinet members makes the worst excesses of Tammany Hall councillors seem positively intellectual.

The fault though ultimately lies with Corbyn for he has set the strategy and has surrounded himself with these dimwits. There are good and capable people on the Labour benches such as the incisive Yvette Cooper and the highly able and often inspiring David Lammy. Mores the tragedy that they’re on the outside, as the country more than ever needs a strong opposition.

Sadly, the old adage added by speechwriters of “not even being fit for opposition” rings true with the current Labour Party. At a time when they should be leading comfortably in the polls, they’re more often than not behind the most clueless and incompetent Government in living memory.

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The supposed strategy of leaving the Tories to crash and burn rather than say where Labour stands has spectacularly backfired. Seeking to appease Remainers and pander to Leavers was always going to run into difficulties. Now no one seems to really know what Labour stands for. To be held in contempt when we’re faced by a truly contemptible Government is really quite an astonishing achievement.

I say that as someone who has never been a Corbyn-hater as sadly so many commentators are. I won’t deny though that I’ve never really taken to the man and most certainly never signed up for “Corbymania”. Too many Labour friends who I know and trust had told me too many things to doubt him.

He seems to me to be one of those on the Left who preferred permanent opposition to the difficulties of taking power. Better to be pristine pure in splendid isolation than get your hands dirty with hard decisions, whether in party office or Government. For leadership – in opposition and most certainly when forming an administration at any political level – is hard.

Decisions to be made rarely fall into what’s written in the party manifesto and often require pragmatism. Corbyn is not alone in appearing to prefer isolation to leadership as Michael Foot seemed likewise until late on in his career and other Labour conference darlings were similarly so.

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As an aside, it’s not just the Left that’s prone to that with the leading Brexiters in the UK Government leaving office quickly as they were unfit for office in the first place, with Johnson and Davis doing what many did within Labour for many years, providing empty rhetoric as opposed to concrete action. Their replacements are equally delusional and you wonder what happened to that formidable machine that was the Tory Party, ever pragmatic about staying in office and preserving the national interest.

It also seems to be the chosen way of the Greens at the moment where Caroline Lucas is highly impressive yet the party overall gives the clear impression that taking power would sully their hands. If they’re to progress then they’re going to have to seek to deliver in office as they’ve done in Germany, not simply snipe from the sidelines as the Scottish Greens do in Holyrood.

To be fair to Corbyn, he had performed well in 2017 by not rising to some disgraceful and scurrilous attacks on him, instead remaining calm and dignified.

The mantra of “for the many, not the few” was inspired and the manifesto was radical, though far from revolutionary. Even performances at Prime Minister’s Questions thereafter saw him capable of landing blows and putting forward a clear and different agenda to the grinding austerity being imposed.

But all that now seems in the dim and distant past with his performances languid as the chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” fade out. It’s not just on Brexit but immigration where he has vacillated and ultimately been shown to be devoid of integrity, nevermind strategy. Having to be almost shamed into belated action on the Immigration Bill was as disreputable as his campaigning for Remain was derisible.

Leadership takes courage as well as talent and he has neither. Instead he panders to the worst of British Labourism and rejects the opportunity of working with European socialism, worse still putting narrow political prejudice before the common good.

The man’s a “busted flush” and there’ll be no Corbyn surge come the next election. It’s not just the Prime Minister but the Leader of the Opposition that needs to go. It’s time for the brave to step forward – Soubry, Grieve, Kendall, Lammy and countless others. The country not just deserves but badly needs better.