Jeremy Corbyn returned to Prime Minister’s Questions more confident than ever today. With a thumping second leadership victory behind him and the successful formation of a strong and capable Shadow Cabinet team, he had much to cheer. But today’s performance was about much more than one man. Having left Theresa May in a spin, the Labour party is finally demonstrating that when it works together it can be the credible opposition that this country so desperately needs.
Labour’s strategy began this morning with a comprehensive list of questions about Brexit intended to hold the Government to account and released by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, and the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Kier Starmer. The list of 170 questions was developed by the respective shadow teams that comprise a number of ministers who had previously resigned before being re-appointed by Jeremy Corbyn in the recent reshuffle. The fact that they are back and the fact that they are working together offers real hope for those who felt let down by Labour’s recent “civil war”, whichever side they were on.
And Corbyn’s competent handling of the Prime Minister early this afternoon demonstrates that he is learning the lessons of the past. Corbyn lead with the questions of our time and nobody was able to mock him for choosing a topic off the political radar, as he has been guilty of doing in the past. In noting his opposition to the “shambolic Tory Brexit” plan, Corbyn also demonstrated that he is willing to reframe the Government’s plans. Rather than let the Prime Minister push the narrative that a “Hard Brexit” was analogous to “being tough”, Corbyn exposed their tactics for the shambolic mess they really are.
This, like grammar schools, is an issue which finds the Parliamentary Labour Party virtually united. In defining what Brexit means to the Labour Party, Corbyn was able to cheer his backbenches while also touching on the concerns of many people across the country, whether they voted to leave the European Union or not. Corbyn warned that with “the trade deficit widening, growth forecasts being downgraded, and the value of the pound down 16 per cent” the Prime Minister was pursuing a negotiation that satisfies the hard-right fringe of the Tory party at the expense of the rest of the country. Many who voted for Brexit did not envision the “Hard Brexit” May is pursuing.
It’s a difficult position to take at a time when the right-wing press is painting anyone concerned about the current economic woes as unpatriotic and anti-British. But this topic was never going to be easy. Today the Labour Party offered itself a master class in how to tackle Theresa May’s toxic Government. When infighting is forgotten and the shadow cabinet can pull itself together on one issue, the result is a performance which has led many to feel extremely optimistic about.
Turn your Labour membership card over and you’ll see that this idea is imprinted within the psyche of our party: “By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.” If the party is able to concentrate on this strength, rather than focusing on internal battles and speculation, we may just have a chance of being given a fair hearing in the next election.