Tom Peterkin: Emotions run high across the political divide

BUT while it's largely relief for the Tories, for Labour it's a mixture of stubbornness and fear, writes Tom Peterkin
While the Tories have at least a semblance of unity, for Labour, the challenge to Jeremy Corbyn and the coming leadership election could end in chaos and the splitting of the party. Picture: GettyWhile the Tories have at least a semblance of unity, for Labour, the challenge to Jeremy Corbyn and the coming leadership election could end in chaos and the splitting of the party. Picture: Getty
While the Tories have at least a semblance of unity, for Labour, the challenge to Jeremy Corbyn and the coming leadership election could end in chaos and the splitting of the party. Picture: Getty

In the splendid surroundings of Dover House – home of the Scotland Office – David Mundell described the last Cabinet meeting under David Cameron.

“It got a bit emotional as we sang Kumbaya around the table and grasped each other,” the Scottish Secretary confided.

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Entertaining a group of Scottish journalists in the drawing room overlooking Horse Guards Parade and the Number 10 back garden, he also passed on an invitation to the Prime Minister’s leaving party.

“As I understand it Dave’s having a leaving do at the Red Lion at about eight o’clock if you want to go over,” Mundell said.

The face of one particularly gormless hack lit up at the thought of a enormous booze up in the famous Westminster hostelry with George Osborne picking up the tab.

“That’s a joke by the way,” Mundell added hastily as he attempted to manage the expectations of the gullible member of the fourth estate. So, of course, was his remark about cuddling, Kumbaya-singing Cabinet ministers.

The point was that despite the circumstances which his party finds itself in, Mundell was remarkably upbeat. Perhaps that was because, as the Conservatives’ sole MP, Mundell’s future as Scottish Secretary looks secure despite the turmoil which has engulfed his party following the Brexit vote.

There may also be some consolation for the Conservative high heid yins that the Cameron to Theresa May handover has looked positively seamless in comparison to the shambles engulfing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

That contrast had been expressed by Ruth Davidson a couple of hours before Mundell’s Dover House press reception in terms that show-cased her penchant for schoolboy humour. “Labour is still fumbling with its flies while the Tories are enjoying their post-coital cigarette after withdrawing our massive Johnson,” Davidson told a suitably impressed House of Commons press gallery lunch.

As Davidson’s puerile double entendre alluded to, the collapse of Boris Johnson as a serious political player has ensured Conservative succession has been swift.

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The back stabbing and front stabbing indulged in by Michael Gove was deeply unedifying but is now over.

While Andrea Leadsom’s admission that she was unable to form a stable government spared the party a leadership contest.

Although Brexit poses enormous challenges for May and her deeply divided party – at least the leadership issue appears to have been resolved for now.

Not so for Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn’s determination to hang on has rent the party asunder.

In the House of Commons bars on Tuesday night, the glee on the faces of a couple of Corbynistas after the decision to include him on the leadership contest ballot papers was plain to see.

So was the utter dismay of the vast majority of Labour parliamentarians and their researchers who are convinced that a Corbyn-led Labour is destined for destruction when a general election is called – presumably sooner, rather than later.

The gloom of Labour moderates was palpable when news broke on the Commons TV screens that the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had narrowly voted to guarantee Corbyn’s presence in the leadership contest.

From a Labour moderate point of view, a glimmer of hope was offered when the NEC announced new rules for the leadership contest.

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The thousands of left-wingers who paid £3 to become registered supporters of Labour and swept Corbyn to power at the height of Corbyn-mania will have to reapply to vote. Instead of three quid they will have to fork out £25 during a two-day window in July.

Furthermore, Labour Party members need to have signed up before 12 January to be eligible to vote. That means the 130,000 people who have signed up to the party since the EU referendum will not have the automatic right to vote.

The entry of the former front bencher Owen Smith into the leadership race is another factor to be considered.

He hopes to be a more credible rallying point for the moderates than Angela Eagle.

But in a three-horse race there is a danger that the anti-Corbyn vote will be split between him and Eagle.

His hope must be that his supporters can persuade Eagle “to do an Andrea” and step down.

Ultimately, however, it would appear that the depth of the support Corbyn enjoys from his supporters within the party means he has every chance of surviving.

If people think that Labour has its problems now, they are nothing to the existential crisis that would result from the re-election of the left winger.

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A split looks a very real possibility. The alternative, as one seasoned observer put it, was the “slow and painful death” of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Whatever the future holds, the UK lacks a credible opposition party.

There is little sign of Labour’s outlook improving while the party turns in on itself and such a divisive figure remains wedded to the hotseat. At this crucial juncture of the country’s political history with the uncertainties thrown up by Brexit that cannot be healthy.

That unhealthy state-of-affairs will continue while Corbyn’s farewell booze up in the Red Lion remains on a dim and distant horizon.