Labour’s leader must show that managing a party and managing a country aren’t the same thingby Alex Dean / January 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Shadow Cabinet reshuffle: it’s Corbyn’s right to wield the axe
It hasn’t been a good week and a half for Jeremy Corbyn. The reshuffle was disastrous for its length alone—a day spent reshuffling is a day spent not holding the government to account. But as shambolic as it might have been, it’s now behind him. Today, Corbyn has a chance to attack government policy. He must take it.
This morning, junior doctors began a 24-hour walkout, during which time doctors will only provide emergency cover. They are striking because of a dispute with the government over contracts: the British Medical Association is concerned about doctors being overworked and about them not receiving adequate pay for extra weekend hours, among other things.
If this isn’t a golden opportunity for Corbyn, what is? Standing up for workers like the striking junior doctors is precisely the sort of protest politics in which he has revelled all his political life. Corbynites have banged on about his anti-austerity, pro-worker mandate long enough—well, here’s his opportunity to convert his mandate into political success.
Over the coming days Labour should give the government hell. It should say that Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has pushed doctors to breaking point. Labour should drive home the message that people who need medical help today will be slower to receive it. This, Corbyn should say, shows that it isn’t Labour that has a problem with reaching compromises; it’s those people in Downing Street who are the ideologues, whose intransigence has led to today’s collapse in relations with some of the most vital workers in Britain.
Crucially, Corbyn now has a chance to show that internal party problems are irrelevant when it comes to matters of national significance. Of course, they aren’t; there’s clearly a substantial overlap in the skills required for contending with each. As my colleague Jay Elwes writes, making a convincing case and winning people round is a fundamental skill of politics, essential to all activity within the sphere. Corbyn’s sacking—or censoring—of people who disagree with him show it’s a skill he just doesn’t have.
All this means Corbyn probably won’t make the most of this opportunity, just like he—and this is putting it very gently—didn’t make the most of Osborne’s tax-credit U-turn, or the government’s stumble on flood defences.
We are all worse off for that fact. Britain needs the government to face scrutiny; not for it to be given a free pass. Our country, in short, needs her majesty’s opposition to fulfil the role it was designed for—and it will never have a better opportunity than it does today.