You don’t have to be a psychologist to realise that the Labour Party’s turmoil at the moment is genuine and it runs deep. If the definition of being alive is the ability to feel emotion and pain, then Labour is living its life to the full, to put it mildly. Talk of its extinction, therefore, is wide of the mark. A wave of monumental indifference would kill it off right now, but instead every party figure that I talk to is so emotionally fraught about the future of Labour they are prepared to fight to keep the party together, even if Jeremy Corbyn wins and most of the shadow cabinet refuse to serve under him.
So, in this context, it might be helpful to think of Labour as Riley, the 11-year-old girl in the new Disney Pixar animation Inside Out. The party’s leadership contest is the battle of emotions going on in this pre-teen’s troubled head, each vying for control. In the film, Riley’s emotions are anger, disgust, sadness, joy and fear. And so in Labour’s contest, Liz Kendall delivers uncomfortable truths at hustings and is met with anger from members who call her a Tory; Andy Burnham tries to have it both ways over the Welfare Bill to the disgust of MPs on the left and right wings of the party; there is a certain heroic sadness around Yvette Cooper, whose husband’s political career has died just as she is on the brink of shattering Labour’s glass ceiling. And what of Jeremy Corbyn – does he represent joy, or fear? It is both.
Half the party is so fearful of a Corbyn victory they warn of 30 years out of power, of the party splitting in two, with a 21st century version of the SDP breaking away. And then there is the half – it may not be as much as half, but the surge in support for the Islington North MP certainly makes it feel like it is – who are joyful for Jeremy. You may feel cautious, as I do, about last week’s YouGov poll, which suggested Corbyn is on course to win on 12 September, because of its sampling issues. You may point out, as I do, that Corbyn’s lead among constituency Labour parties does not matter because this is a one person, one vote election. You may remember, as I do, how Ed Miliband seemed to win Twitter during the election campaign before losing on 7 May, and therefore dismiss the #JezWeCan movement as a similar leftist echo chamber.
But here is something you can’t dismiss. Every other “ordinary” member I bump into – not just the activists who go to every hustings, or the Charlotte Churches and Owen Joneses – has joy for Jeremy. It is extraordinary that a man whose politics are so unfashionable inside Westminster is sprinkled with stardust outside it, but I guess that’s the whole point, as Louis Norman explains on page 42. I still think Labour would be unelectable in 2020 if Corbyn were leader, but I cannot deny the surge for Corbyn is real in a way that it wasn’t for Ed Miliband. I understand what Tony Blair meant when he said last week the contest was “enthralling”. Those MPs and advisers who said after 7 May that Labour needed an “open and honest debate” got their wish. The other candidates shouldn’t feel depressed about Corbyn’s presence, but embrace it as an opportunity to have the debate, as emotionally draining as it is, that they should have had in 2010.The best response to Corbyn from each of his rivals is to come up with a vision for Labour that is full of joy. Cooper and Burnham’s strategies, so far, have been to play things safe and straight down the middle, while Kendall’s has been too harsh and lacking in hope. They need to make Labour members feel alive in the way that Corbyn does. There cannot only be fear of Corbyn. There needs to be joy for something else.
Save chauffeurs for special days
Given that he spent £172 on a chauffeur-driven journey of less than three quarters of a mile for a conference, you have to wonder whether John Bercow has heard of black cabs, let alone Uber. Given the nature of the occasion, he quite clearly should have got a taxi or walked. But in some circumstances, particularly attending, in an official capacity, such events as Lady Thatcher’s funeral and the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, isn’t the Speaker entitled to use a chauffeur? If he had scrambled out of an Uber to one of these occasions he would have been accused of disrespect. And while hundreds of pounds is a lot of money to the rest of us, it is small change when you think about the billions that need to be spent on fixing the dilapidated Houses of Parliament. On Friday, during the heavy rain over London, I walked along the cloisters that run under Big Ben to find water pouring through the ceiling. A policeman had stationed a bucket under the drip but it wasn’t much use. Parliament is falling down. Perhaps the Speaker can find some money for a bigger bucket.
The shock of spontaneity
As a keen gardener, I love it when politics and horticulture collide. This doesn’t happen often, as you can imagine. But via Benjamin Ramm on Twitter, news reaches me of the president of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, phoning a radio station to raise the issue of wild parsnips, which are invasive in some parts of Finland and contain a sap that can cause severe burns to the skin – the Finnish version of our own giant hogweed problem, I guess. Mr Niinistö also raved about wildflowers, including the butterfly orchid, telling the Luonto-Suomi (Nature Finland) programme on the Yle radio station: “In the evening, when you go out for a walk, you don’t even need to use your eyes, you can just smell them in the summer air.” It is impossible to imagine such spontaneous and evocative comments from our own political leaders, isn’t it?
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