The constitutional duty is not merely to oppose, but to Oppose. This, the party is not doingby Kate Allen / February 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Politics is about telling stories to voters which explain their everyday experiences. I’d like to talk to you about what your current story says—and what it doesn’t.
Your malaise is warping the latest chapter in the long story of British politics. The green benches of the Commons run parallel, facing each other down both sides of the chamber, because MPs originally met in a chapel with that layout. In architecture, form is supposed to follow function; but the form of parliament has shaped its functioning for centuries. Our system is binary. There is no space for a multiplicity of alternatives, just one opposition—to be precise, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. The constitutional duty is not merely to oppose, but to Oppose. This you are not doing.
Ask thoughtful Tory MPs and they will freely admit—as one said to me recently with a mix of glee and concern flickering across his face: “We are getting away with all sorts and nobody’s watching.” The press could do better, but only you—the Opposition—are, or should be, on the spot in every debate, scrutinising every last action of the government. It’s tough being relevant out of power, but it’s impossible without remorseless use of the weapons you’ve got—awkward questions, forensic watchfulness and scorn. Not deploying these effectively is what gives you a relevance problem.
You also have a consistency problem and a communications problem. The two are linked: there is a reason why David Cameron and George Osborne said the words “long-term economic plan” over and over until we in Westminster were sick of hearing it: they knew that was the only way to cut through to the vast majority of voters who don’t watch Prime Minister’s Questions. Whatever Labour wants its story to be, it simply won’t register until it understands this. Jeremy Corbyn’s New Year flip-flopping about what sort of executive pay cap he was or wasn’t proposing was typical. Now, I appreciate that Corbyn believes he has a clear story to tell: anti-austerity at home, anti-imperialism abroad. But these abstractions have only the haziest links to most people’s daily lives. The activists might like the messages, but the crucial voters you need to win won’t even hear it.
So to policy—which…