The loner leader

First published on Progressonline for ‘the Last Word’

Theresa May gave the world a glimpse of what Brexit Britain, certainly under her lack of vision, would look like. Alone with no one to talk to at the latest European Union summit she looked awkward and in desperate need of friends. No longer the new kid on the block – the Italian minister of foreign affairs Angelino Alfano has that accolade – May’s notoriety is fading and the reality of Britain’s exit from the EU has crystallized. But a plan of action has not. The unelected prime minister is consumed by Brexit yet made impotent by it at the same time. If only she faced a serious opposition …

Marking your own homework

Last weekend’s polls put Labour at a historic low. For the first time since 1983, Labour is 17 points behind the Tories – and not just any Tories, May’s incompetent Tories. Just 25 per cent of the public will vote Labour, 18 per cent trust Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell on the economy and only 17 per cent prefer our leader. This is disastrous. But, despite being on an election footing and expecting a poll before May 2017, Diane Abbott says the leadership aims to close this devastating gap in the next 12 mouths. Not only do Abbott’s comments expose the poverty of ambition in the hard-left’s plan for Labour now they finally have control – poll parity would put Labour on 33.5 per cent even lower than Ed Miliband’s pitiful 35 per cent strategy – but it might just be seven months too late. In a rare moment of honesty, Ken ‘why is he still a member of the Labour party?’ Livingstone said he would be ‘worried’ if Abbott is proved wrong. George Eaton of the New Statesman says ‘test set’. Any volunteers for marking their homework?

Causing offence

The government is failing, the opposition is trailing, something has to change. Not my view, but the leader’s office. In come new staff, someone to handle the complicated network of stakeholders around the leader of the opposition. Step forward Jayne Fisher.

Not being highly networked in Islington politics, Fisher is not someone I have ever met. I can only assume she is so good that it is worth appointing the head of the London office of Sinn Fein and giving the leader’s critics a perfect hook to recycle stories about Corbyn and McDonnell’s associations with the IRA.

My worries about the appointment are twofold. First, the total disregard for the damage this might do Labour’s brand, particularly in the cities where innocent people were murdered by the IRA. Second, that it looks like another act of provocation designed to make moderates give up on Labour and leave the party to the hard-left. This incendiary behaviour that divides and rules Labour is sadly the only ‘new politics’ we have come to expect. With tiny exceptions, it is not working – but that does not seem to have stopped them from trying.

The Hammond/Javid tax

This week the government has allowed councils to raise George Osborne’s two per cent social care precept to six per cent. There will be sighs of relief in many a town hall desperately trying to bridge the gap in funding care for the countries eldest and most vulnerable residents.

Labour – who still run the lion’s share of local government – should not forget the politics behind this move. It is not for Labour councilors to take the blame for levying this tax. The blame for Britain’s social care crisis should be laid firmly at the Tories’ feet. There should not be a Labour leaflet in the land that does not remind the voters that it is the Tories, not Labour, that are putting up their council tax.

Aleppo – the cost of inaction

This week the world has seen the tragic consequences of inaction. Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s regime act with impunity and have massacred hundreds of thousands of the Syrian people. No one can know how different things may have been had the House of Commons voted differently in 2013, but what is certain is that the vote proved to Vladimir Putin and his coterie that the international community’s ‘red lines’ meant nothing – if the use of chemical weapons did not trigger a response, little else would.

Forgotten in all of this is how weak the Russian economy is. Putin can barely afford these wars and incursions. But while they come with so few costs, he cannot afford to not increase his country’s role and influence. It would take but one meaningful foot down by the international community or Nato and his expansionist plans would make little sense domestically, financially or geo-politically. However, there is little sense that the handwringing will become anything more. In the meantime, it is innocent civilians that are forced to pay the price for the west’s failure of leadership.

Perhaps one day the world will mean it when it says ‘never again’.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell

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