PETER OBORNE: Utterly inept jeremy Corbyn missed an open goal this week by not seizing on Theresa May’s horror show
Own goal: Step forward Jeremy Corbyn, whose incompetence will be a case study for political science classes for generations to come
By any standards, this has been a terrible week for Theresa May. Her flagship Brexit policy was rejected by 230 votes in the biggest defeat in British parliamentary history.
Not merely that, she has been forced into having to engage in talks with opposition parties as part of a humiliating attempt to salvage her deal.
But our dead duck PM has one consolation — someone else has had a worse week.
Step forward Jeremy Corbyn, whose incompetence will be a case study for political science classes for generations to come.
Mrs May’s horror show has been a magnificent opportunity to exploit — one that any half-competent politician would have seized and used in order to topple his rival and grab power for himself.
But like a footballer freezing in front of an open goal, Corbyn fluffed his chance. He made a catalogue of elementary mistakes.
First there was his shrill, utterly unstatesmanlike reaction to Mrs May’s defeat, when he over-excitedly announced that he was putting down a no-confidence motion in the Government.
Where was the dignity and gravitas that voters expect of someone who thinks they could run the country better?
The Labour leader’s speech in the no-vote-of-confidence debate the following day was inept. He confused many with an oblique reference to the 1910 General Election, which was called because of problems with David Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’.
Indeed, his clodhopping performance simply helped to unite the Conservative Party against him.
But his most glaring error was the refusal to take advantage of Mrs May’s weakness by accepting her offer to go to Downing Street to try to thrash out a solution to Brexit.
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Labour MP Mike Gapes caustically pointed out that it was extraordinary that Mr Corbyn has been happy to sit down with Hamas, Hezbollah, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, a Colombian Revolutionary Socialist group and Iran’s ayatollahs but refuses to sit down with the British Prime Minister in order to attempt to solve a national crisis.
To summarise, Mr Corbyn failed at every level to exploit this week’s golden opportunity — the sort that arises only once in most political careers.
Let’s imagine the alternative scenario and that Mr Corbyn had agreed to sit down with Mrs May.
I am convinced there was only one condition he needed to demand before he agreed — namely that he could walk through the front door of No10, in full view of the cameras. Mrs May could hardly have said no.
If that had happened, the world would have seen Jeremy Corbyn stroll towards that famous black door — showing himself to be a major player and identifying himself in voters’ minds as a credible fixture in Downing Street.What a publicity coup!
Mrs May’s horror show has been a magnificent opportunity to exploit — one that any half-competent politician would have seized and used in order to topple his rival and grab power for himself
After posing outside for several minutes for photos, Mr Corbyn, wearing a freshly pressed suit and a clean shirt and tie, would have sashayed inside.
There is no doubt Tony Blair would have done this if he’d been offered such an opportunity when he was Opposition leader. Gosh, he’d have made the most of it.
Once inside No 10, Mr Corbyn should have graciously accepted the offer of a cup of tea from a humiliated Mrs May and thanked his lucky stars that he had become a major power-broker.
His aides could easily have spun the line that Jeremy Corbyn was the hero of the hour, as the only person in the country who could solve the Brexit crisis.
Indeed, he could have wrestled out of Mrs May an agreement that Britain must remain in the Customs Union so as to protect workers’ jobs. He could have used his sudden influence to insist, also, that she rule out a No Deal to ensure a smooth transition. Finally, he could have made a killer ultimatum to the Prime Minister.
He could have condescendingly informed her that she could rely on the help of Her Majesty’s Opposition if, and only if, she met his ‘reasonable’ conditions.
Waspishly, he could have left with the parting shot that if Mrs May was exhausted by 30 months of failing to deliver Brexit, he and his scheming director of communications, Seumas Milne, could join her in future negotiations with Brussels.
Mr Corbyn could then have walked out of No 10, waved to the photographers again, then held a triumphant press conference where he depicted himself as a national saviour.
He could have explained how he had got Mrs May in a half-Nelson and forced from her an agreement to all his demands.
The pictures of Mr Corbyn standing outside the door of No10 would have flashed around the world and could later have been used in Labour’s General Election campaign material.
Thrilled with the success of his tactical gambit, Mr Corbyn would then have been able to sit and wait for Mrs May to announce that she was ruling out any possibility of a No Deal Brexit — something she would most likely have had to do anyway, without Mr Corbyn’s intervention.
Of course, Mr Corbyn could then have stepped back into the limelight and claimed all the credit. By which time, he would have hoped to have convinced the electorate that he, rather than Mrs May and the squabbling Tories, should be entrusted to run the country.
But as we all know, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t take this obviously sensible path.
I have two theories why. The first is that he is every bit as inadequate as a party leader as his critics say. But my second theory is more complicated: Mr Corbyn is much cleverer than he seems and is deliberately not going in for the kill so the beleaguered Tories, haemorrhaging support by the day, stay in charge of events until Brexit happens.
Then, Mr Corbyn can win a General Election and sort it all out.What’s more, the crushed Tory party might be so broken that it would be out of power for a generation.
This theory also presupposes that Mr Corbyn, a long-time critic of Brussels, believes that EU rules stop him imposing on Britain the Socialist revolution he has campaigned for all his adult life.
There is much truth in both these theories.
None of this, of course, will reassure the vast majority of the British people.
As they watch Westminster implode at this time of maximum national danger, they are faced with two failed party leaders who are both not up to the job.
Why snub Bercow? The Lords has been stuffed with a crowd of dodgy Tories
It’s reported that in an act of pure political spite, Downing Street will deny a peerage to John Bercow when he retires as Commons Speaker. I hope this won’t be so.
In any case, many Tories with controversial pasts have been given peerages in recent years.
Lord Gilbert of Panteg went to the Lords on the recommendation of then Prime Minister David Cameron even though the Tories broke election campaign law in 2015 when Gilbert was the Tory party’s director of campaigning.
It’s reported that in an act of pure political spite, Downing Street will deny a peerage to John Bercow when he retires as Commons Speaker. I hope this won’t be so
In a court case linked with events back then, Mr Justice Edis this week described Conservative Central Office as having ‘a culture of convenient self-deception and lack of clarity about what was permissible and what was not’.
Lord Gilbert did nothing criminal but he must bear some of the blame for the slack management that allowed criminality to take place.
In these circumstances, I am shocked that Theresa May has allowed Gilbert to be nominated as the Tories’ representative on the Electoral Commission — the independent body whose duty is to ‘oversee elections and regulate political finance’.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has rightly intervened to put pressure on the Iranian government over the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The British-Iranian mother and charity worker was jailed for five years in 2016 yet not a single official charge against her has been made public. Her continuing detention is a travesty of justice.
By contrast, Mr Hunt is wrong to broach with the Singaporean authorities the case of a former British public schoolboy sentenced to 20 years in jail and 24 strokes of the cane for drug offences. Singapore is fully entitled to punish Ye Ming Yuen however it sees fit. The 29-year-old has been convicted of seven drugs charges, including trafficking cannabis and crystal meth. Drug abuse is a terrible problem that destroys lives and funds criminal gangs. No British politician should try to undermine another country’s attempts to tackle the scourge of drugs.
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