We like to keep a varied window on the modern world at this esteemed organ but today, despite the UK’s recent political scene rather dominating recent posts, I make no apology for returning again to the topic.
Hopefully, when readers buy their value-for-money Christmas stocking filler copy of this year’s National Rust ‘Best Of’ annual [expected to be available to Amazon and all decent bookshops from 14th November] they will find that as usual our political coverage tends to accurately represent its importance to the UK and world at any particular time, just as our sports and ‘gender battle’ pieces always do. It’s one of the reasons why the Rust was given the rare honour of a special exhibition (as an example of a media institution of record) at the Smithsonian Institute in September 2014.
Yesterday I tuned in to BBC2 at about 10.45am in advance of my regular date with the Daily Politics show, expecting nothing special largely because – after the fast-moving histrionics of the past three months – things had seemingly settled down somewhat now that the Tories whittled down their leadership candidates list to just two (Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom) and were entering a 9-week campaign to choose as Britain’s next prime minister.
How wrong could you be?
As the Daily Politics show began (Jo Coburn hosting with Labour’s Chuka Umunna and the Tories’ Nigel Evans in the studio) the biggest story of the morning was the (much-trailed over the weekend) impending formal announcement by Labour’s Angela Eagle that she was going to initiate a leadership challenge – as it were on behalf of Labour MPs in Parliament – to embattled Labour party supremo Jeremy Corbyn.
[I’m going to deal with this first, both because chronologically it’s appropriate and also because it’s a fascinating situation in its own right]. Umunna impresses me because (although, as all politicians do, he spouts party-line-speak by the yard) he always sounds both lucid and like a real human being, i.e. more than able to think on his feet and hold his own in non-political personal banter with his fellow panellists or the host presenter.
Yesterday he was stridently fired-up as he defended the position of Labour MPs against the criticisms of some party activist supporter of Mr Corbyn.
The issue has (worryingly for Labour’s future fortunes) become crystallised in ‘either/or’ fashion with little room for compromise and understanding.
At Westminster Mr Corbyn is a busted flush as leader, having been on the receiving end of a crushing ‘no confidence’ defeat by his MPs, who fear (rightly in my view) that if he remains in situ Labour will have a cat’s chance in Hell of winning the 2020 General Election.
Meanwhile, under the new (Ed Miliband-introduced, one vote per member) rules by which the Labour leader is chosen, Mr Corbyn is virtually unassailable – having been voted in by a large majority of local activists around the country – that is, assuming he can get his name onto the candidates’ list.
The issue as to who gets on the candidates’ list is decided by the Party’s National Executive Committee (‘NEC’). By general agreement, the rules are unclear as to whether, in order to get on the list, any candidate (including an incumbent Labour leader) must have the support of 50 MPs … a figure which, in the wake of the MPs’ ‘no-confidence’ vote against him, Mr Corbyn is unlikely to be able to get.
He and his supporters – who, in stark contrast to the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs, believe Mr Corbyn would win the 2020 General Election if he is still Labour leader at that point – meanwhile argue that, as current party leader, he has a right to be on the leadership candidates’ list in any event.
They also believe, especially since apparently 250,000 new people have become Labour party members in the last two months, that the ‘activist element’ will deliver another crunching Corbyn leadership victory if he is allowed to stand (as some pundits argue morally he should be, never mind the intricacies of the Party rules).
However, if Chuka Umunna’s stance yesterday is representative, Labour’s MPs think otherwise. Both sides of the argument are lining up lawyers’ opinions. It’s all getting a bit ‘tasty’, especially since the only thing that both sides seem to agree upon is that the imminent NEC’s decision on this crucial issue will be a political one – and presumably therefore potentially subject to a legal challenge from the side that doesn’t get the nod.
However, let’s get back to the Tory party leadership issue that was prompted by the outcome of the EU Referendum.
Shortly after yesterday’s Daily Politics show began, Jo Coburn was obliged to ‘throw’ to live coverage of a sudden media ‘scrum’ outside Andrea Leadsom’s house being reported upon by Laura Kuenessberg, the BBC’s political editor, who apparently not long earlier had ‘broken’ the story that Mrs Leadsom was about to withdraw from the Tory leadership contest.
Viewers of the Daily Politics were therefore – courtesy of the BBC’s cameraman at the scene – suddenly passive participants in a major news development unfolding before the worlds’ eyes.
As La Kuenessberg brought us up to date with what she knew so far, holding an earpiece to her right lug-hole in order to hear Jo Coburn’s voice from the studio in the crush, one could watch dispassionately as various politicians, journalists, media pundits, photographers and cameramen milled about, each jostling desperately to gain a favourable position from which to watch the spectacle about to occur.
Sure enough, minutes later Mrs Leadsom’s front door burst open, another column of politicians spewed forth to add to the general chaos, and then the candidate herself came out, read her formal letter of withdrawal addressed to the chairman of the Tories 1922 Committee (which is running the leadership contest) and then took no questions before returning inside.
History in the making.
What does it all mean? Well, we will now have Theresa May as our new Prime Minister.
I know how he must be feeling.
When you’ve left some post or job, you don’t want to hang around like a deflating balloon, getting in the way of the new regime – you just want to be a million miles away, licking your wounds and enjoying the experience of re-joining the human race.
Meanwhile I’m more intrigued by what’s been going on in the Tory party than what’s been going on as Labour ties itself in knots.
Despite the EU Referendum Brexit vote, we now have a Remainer in charge of extricating the UK from Europe. We have had no say in her coronation and will not get one until presumably 2020.
The slightly sour taste in the mouth at what has goes on in the Tory party seems to have been in the tradition of the time-honoured media pundits’ adage that – however ruthless and vicious Labour party infighting ever seems when it comes to leadership battles and internal power-broking deals – it’s kindergarten stuff compared to what the Tory party gets up to.
The process of dispatching incumbent leaders and/or unearthing new ones in the Tory party is always a Stalinist/Mafia-slick operation conducted by unnamed and unknown party grandees, often with blinding speed and violence.
In this instance it is hard to escape the impression that, from the moment David Cameron decided he had to go (and could not be persuaded otherwise, if anyone actually bothered to try) the extraordinary events that have followed over the last ten days – from Boris Johnson’s stabbing in the back, to the candidates that emerged … and then their gradual withdrawals … have all been orchestrated with military precision from a bunker from Tory party HQ.
Someone had decided that Johnson was a potential liability and/or persona non grata.
Gove (possibly a deliberately-placed Trojan horse?) does the dirty, thereby also committing political suicide in doing the deed.
He therefore duly came last by a country mile in the first round of voting, after which he/she who comes last drops off the end … (probably no skulduggery needed with him then).
Stephen Crabb – by all accounts an ambitious coming minister with an ‘everyman’ (not a toff) background – was suddenly under ‘media’ attack. His Christian devoutness and ‘family man’ image provided easy ammunition when first it was revealed that he was anti same-sex marriages and/or homosexuality and then, of course, to cap it all, secondly he was probably holed below the waterline forever by the revelation that he’d been caught out ‘sexting’ some young woman.
That left only Mrs Leadsom as the other ‘two-person’ runoff candidate against Theresa May. To the party grandees she was probably the biggest threat – and indeed the Brexiteers’ biggest hope. Time to ‘take her out’ then. Suddenly her CV was dodgy. Twice-over, if I read the reports correctly.
Then it was revealed she was another devout Christian – surely scope for attack here? Yes! It became known she was inherently reactionary and anti-gay.
Then, next, what potentially would become her nemesis. She was a mum … and Theresa wasn’t. She was entrapped by an interview in which she was encouraged to ramble on the topic and put her foot in it.
Here Mrs Leadsom helped everyone out by displaying her inexperience as a politician.
Dismayed and hurt at her apparent ‘faux pas’, she first tried to attack The Times for having misrepresented her. However, she forgot the first rule of PR ‘damage limitation’ [i.e. think hard and consider what you actually did (or didn’t) say – and whether it might have been recorded – before challenging or denying what has made it into print].
As it happened, the evidence then provided by the transcript issued of her interview (and the audio version released by the journalist involved) seemed not only to destroy Mrs Leadsom’s angry counter-thrust but actually made her look stupid and two-faced.
By yesterday morning – clearly – Mrs Leadsom and her supporters had seen the writing upon the wall. There was no way they were going to be allowed to stop Mrs May from becoming the new Tory leader. If they carried on the fight, there’d only be more and more filth and muck thrown at them. And another nine weeks of it would get very tiresome and cumulatively wearying indeed.
So what was the bloody point in carrying on? [Answer: none].
Where all this leaves democracy is a moot point. Nobody is triumphant anymore.
Most are suspicious that the ruling elite, having inadvertently let the ‘public vote’ genie out of the bottle, has now managed somehow (against the odds) to get the poor sap back into it … and then screwed the top back on very tightly indeed.
It could get worse before it gets better.