It is a very long time since I have seen a grown man cry in the House of Commons. The last time I can recall was on the day when Margaret Thatcher resigned, and one of her ministers – now an elderly peer – came into the Lobby, talked about her, and as he talked, tears rolled silently down the side of his face.
Today, walking along the cloister below Big Ben, I saw one of the newly promoted members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet standing in the adjoining yard, in tears, a picture of abject misery.
A fellow Labour MP standing at his side put a hand gently on him and said: “I’m worried for you” – and persuaded him to go to the nearest canteen to take a break.
He was not the only one reduced in tears that day. Millions will have heard the party’s former leader Margaret Beckett on the BBC’s Today programme, her voice breaking as she declared: “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be casting a vote of no confidence in the leader of the Labour Party.” Mrs Beckett signed Mr Corbyn's nomination papers when he decided to run for the leadership last year, a decision she now heartily regrets.
After that interview, her fellow MP Lucy Powell tweeted: “Heart breaking to hear Margaret Beckett almost crying.”
Pat Glass, who is believed to have set the record for the shortest shadow Cabinet career in history, was also seen in tears. On Monday, Mr Corbyn appointed her to the post of shadow Education Secretary in place of Lucy Powell. On Wednesday, she resigned. She said that the situation had become “untenable”.
But the man I saw in tears has not resigned and does not plan to, because he is politically in sympathy with Mr Corbyn.
But he has been through a dreadfully stressful four days, which threatened to make him ill with anxiety. To add to the misery of watching Mr Corbyn’s authority over his fellow MPs disintegrate, he has had to prepare for the ordeal of representing Labour in the Commons.
In a parliamentary set piece, he will be confronted by a highly experienced Cabinet minister, flanked by a full ministerial team, all armed with folders full of information supplied by their civil servants.
But the poor Corbynite loyalist shadow Secretary of State from the valley of tears will be all alone. There have been so many resignations from Labour's front bench since Sunday that Mr Corbyn has not been able to appoint a full shadow Cabinet, let alone replace all the junior shadow ministers who share the work load of their senior colleagues. Most shadow Cabinet members are also having to muddle through without paid researchers: the old team of researchers lost their jobs when the shadow ministers they were advising quit.
Despite his obvious misery, and his friends’ concern for his health, the shadow minister has insisted he will see his parliamentary duties through. When that is done, others hope he will take a rest.
Meanwhile, if anyone is looking for an anthem to express the current mood of the Labour Party, I would suggest ‘The Weeping Song’, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - “This is the weeping song, a song in which to weep.”
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