Category Archives: UK Politics

The best result for May would be two Labour victories

There are two parliamentary by elections in the UK tomorrow both caused by the resignation of the sitting Labour MP. One is the marginal Copeland (2015 majority 2,564) and one the safer Stoke on Trent Central (2015 majority 5,179). But the pressure is all on Labour. With their ghastly poll ratings there is at least a chance of a Conservative gain in Copeland which would be the first time a governing party has gained a seat in a by election since Mitcham and Morden in 1982* and the first time from the main opposition party since Brighouse and Spenbourgh in 1960. Stoke on Trent Central might appear safer but it was a heavily pro Brexit voting area last year and Labour in their infinite (lack of) wisdom have picked a pro remain candidate and UKIP are throwing the kitchen sink (and new leader Paul Nuttal) at this seat. One defeat for Labour would be bad. Two would be catastrophic. 

In theory the Conservatives should be laughing at this. But in my opinion the best result for Prime Minister Theresa May would be two Labour holds. The reason for this is that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is not popular with voters and is not regarded as a potential Prime Minister by either the public or most of his own party. He is the Conservatives main electoral asset. If Labour win both by elections – especially if they win by increased majorities – Corbyn’s leadership is strengthened. Conversely if they lose one or both by elections the pressure on Corbyn will mount and he might resign or be forced out. Labour might then be led by a competent leader and the Conservatives will face a real fight in the next election. 

Plus if UKIP win the Stoke by election that party – which has been a shambles since the last election and had three leaders last year! – might mount a comeback. The Conservatives won’t want that as UKIP could attract pro Brexit Conservatives who are unhappy with the Government- in the same way as the Lib Dems are a protest for pro remain Conservatives. Theresa May does not want a UKIP revival. 

There are two by elections in history that a Conservative Government lost but the party benefited from the loss. One was Darlington in March 1983. This like Copeland was a marginal Labour seat. Labour like now had an unpopular leader in Michael Foot. The month before Labour had suffered a humiliating defeat to the SDP-Liberal Alliance in Bermondsey suffering a swing of 44.2 per cent – still a record by election swing and the pressure was on Foot. The Australian Labor Party had changed its leader just before a General Election in February 1983 and unexpectedly won that country’s General Election. People in the UK Labour Party thought a change of leadership might enable them to do the same thing. So the Darlington by election was vital. “In effect the contest became a referendum Michael Root’s leadership” (David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh “The British General Election of 1983” page 60). As it turned out Labour won with an increased majority preserving Michael Foot’s leadership. But it was a hollow victory. Ossie O’Brien the victor was an MP for less than three months. He lost his seat back to the Conservatives in the June 1983 election which the Conservatives win with a huge 144 seat majority. But had Labour lost the Darlington by election who knows? Foot might have been replaced, and Labour might have emulated their Australian counterparts and won the election. As the book on the 1983 election put it (page 43) “Darlington stayed Labour but the Conservatives were not sorry since Michael Foot was secured in office”.

Another by election that was a good defeat for the Conservatives was the Eastleigh by election of 2013. The Conservatives hoped to win the seat from their struggling Lib Dem coalition partners but Mike Thornton held the seat for the Lib Dems. But this benefited the Conservatives as like Darlington in 1983 it kept an unpopular leader – in this case Nick Clegg – in office. It also kept the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in power. Had the Conservatives win the by election Clegg could have been toppled a more left leaning leader like Vince Cable could have been elected and the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition could have collapsed. That would have produced either a two year lame duck minority Conservative Government at best or at worst an early General Election which judging by the polls Labour would have won. Also if UKIP had won Eastleigh the UKIP surge of 2013 could have been even greater and had there been a General Election in 2013 UKIP could have gained votes and seats from the Conservatives. As it turned out Clegg survived the Coalition lasted two more years the Lib Dems got decimated in 2015 when the Conservatives win an unexpected majority. 

The precedents of 1983 and2013 suggest that if there is an unpopular leader the other party can benefit if that leader remains in office until the next General Election. It might very well be in Theresa May’s best interest for Labour to win in Copeland and Stoke tomorrow and let Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership limp on to its probable diasterous end in 2020 – If he lasts that long. 

*The 1982 Mitcham and Morden by election was a complicated affair. It was a Labour seat in 1979 but its MP Bruce Douglas-Mann defected to the SDP in 1982 and resigned to fight a by election under his new party banner (like Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless did in 2014). But unlike those two he was unsuccessful and the seat was gained by the Conservatives. Whether it should as a Conservative gain from Labour or the SDP is debatable but it is the last occasion a UK governing party gained a seat at a by election. 

Theresa May (or may not) win the next election

Tomorrow the UK will have a new Prime Minister. Theresa May will be the country’s second female Prime Minister and the thirteenth Prime Minister of the reign of current Queen Elizabeth (hope she is not superstitious). May of course has become Prime Minister without winning a General Election. Surprisingly May is the seventh post war Prime Minister to gain power without winning a General Election. Labour and the Lib Dems predictably have called for a General Election but there is no obligation for a Prime Minister appointed in the circumstances that May has been appointed to call a General Election and in any case the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – which the Lib Dems supported!- means there cannot be an election unless two thirds of MPs vote in favour of it which means both Labour and Conservative MPs would have to back an election which is highly unlikely.

So it looks like the next UK General Election will be held as planned on May 7th 2020. But will Theresa May get her own mandate then? UK politics is totally unpredictable at the moment so it is impossible to say. So I thought I would look at the other six people who became Prime Minister without winning a General Election. Did they go on to win their own mandate at the next election? Let’s just say the omens for Theresa May are very mixed.

The first man to become Prime Minister without winning a General Election was Sir Anthony Eden who succeeded Sir Winston Churchill in 1955. He is the only Prime Minister of the six who called a “snap” General Election after becoming Prime Minister*. He became Prime Minister in April 1955 and the election was on May 26th. The Conservative majority increased from 17 to 60. Eden’s honeymoon did not last long however and the ill fated Anglo-French invasion of Suez in 1956 led to his resignation on 10th January 1957.

He was succeeded by Harold Macmillan who unlike Eden did not go to the country immediately. Instead he waited until October 1959 when on the slogan “You’ve never had it so good” the Conservatives further increased their majority to 100. But Macmillan like Churchill and Eden did not complete his term. The infamous Profuno affair when the Secretary of State for War** John Profuno admitted lying to Parliament when he said he had not had an affair with a prostitute when in fact he had. The scandal nearly brought down the government and Macmillan resigned due to ill health.

He was succeeded by Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Now this was weird. First of all he was elected by nobody as in those days the Conservative leader “emerged” rather than being elected. Secondly Home was not even an MP at the time. He was a hereditary peer a member of the House of Lords with the title of the 14th Earl of Home. He had to win a by election in the safe Conservative seat of Kinross and West Perthshire to get into the House of Commons since the Prime Minister has to be an MP. In an era dominated by young pop groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones having an Earl as Prime Minister was seen as an “elegant anachronism”.  Labour won the 1964 General Election but only by a majority of four seats. The Nuffield study of the election (page 146) said “When all was over, some Conservatives were willing to say privately that Sir Alec Douglas-Home cost them the election”. Since the Conservatives still nearly won the election it is quite possible that a leader more in touch with sixties Britain might have won. But they still lost and Home is the shortest serving UK Prime Minister since the war at just less than a year.

The next man to become Prime Minister without winning a General Election was James Callaghan in 1976. He inherited a government with no majority and an economic mess but had he gone to the country in October 1978 he might have won. But he delayed the decision and the infamous winter of discontent in 1978-79 when the dead went unburied and the rubbish went uncollected turned the country against Labour and although Callaghan was more popular than Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives won a majority of 43. His decision not to call an election in 1978 was a dreadful mistake. Had he done so Margaret Thatcher could have been a footnote in history instead of a three time election winner.

Thatcher stayed Prime Minister until 1990 when Michael Heseltine challenged her for the Conservative leadership. Although Thatcher got more votes than Heseltine she did not get the number of votes she needed and resigned. She was not succeed by Heseltine but by John Major. Major was behind in the polls for most of the time before the 1992 General Election but fear of change brought Major a shock victory with a 21 seat majority. He might have wished he hadn’t bothered as his 1992-97 government was a total shambles the party was split in two and eventually crashed to a landslide defeat by Tony  Blair ‘s Labour Party in the 1997 General Election.

The last person before Theresa May to become Prime Minister without winning a General Election was Gordon Brown in 2007. In fact Brown like Douglas-Home did not even win a leadership election as he was elected by the Labour Party unopposed. Brown was immediately faced with a dilemma. During his honeymoon period Labour soared in the polls and a lot of Labour MPs wanted him to call a “snap” General Election. After weeks of umming and aahing he decided not to call an election. He must have wished he had as in 2008 the economic crash occurred and the next year the MPs expenses scandal added to Brown’s unpopularity. In the end he actually did well to deny the Conservatives an overall majority but like Callaghan in 1978 had he called an election in 2007 the political history of the UK might have changed forever.

So judging by history Theresa May has a 50-50 chance of winning her own mandate in 2020. How she delivers Brexit and how she can keep her party united will probably be a key factor but with the current unpredictable state of British politics who would dare bet on the 2020 result?

*Prior to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act the only rule was that a Parliament could not last more than five years. But a Prime Minister could call an election at any time he/she wanted to. As an example there were two General Elections in 1974.

**Sums up the mentality of the UK at the time that the position of Secretary of State for War existed. It did not last much longer. On April 1st 1964 the post – along with those of First Lord of the Admiralty and Secretary of State for Air – was abolished.

 

 

Time to say goodbye

So a week to go before the UK votes on whether or not to stay in the European Union (EU). In a previous post (“If Lucha Underground Wants to Grow it Must Get Rid of Intergender Matches”) you might remember I mentioned I was against the UK staying in the EU and said I would explain why in a future post. Well the time is now….

First of all I would say it is NOT because of anti immigration feelings. I was against the UK being in the EU long before immigration became an issue in the UK. The reason I am against the EU is simple and it came during a TV interview in the BBC’s 1992 General Election coverage.

On the day after this election – the first one I took an interest in though I was too young to vote – the BBC were interviewing a couple of Labour supporting trade unionists. Now by this time it was clear that the Conservative Party had won and the interviewer asked the trade unionists if they would use European law to try and thwart the Conservative Government’s policies. The trade unionists said yes. That annoyed me. I felt that the trade unionists were not accepting the vote of the British people and if Europe could stop the UK Government from implementing its policies what was the point in voting (I should stress that if it had been Conservative politicians trying to thwart a Labour Government via Europe I would have felt the same way).

Two examples of the EU meddling in UK affairs. In 1973 when we joined what is now the EU the UK Government imposed 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT) on tampons since they were “luxury items”. In effect it was a tax on women since only women used tampons and they had no choice – it was an essential part of their lives. It seems a ridiculous tax but it was the 1970s and that was a very sexist decade in the UK. Quite rightly Prime Minister David Cameron thought that the “tampon tax” was a ridiculous sexist tax that should not exist in 2016 and it has been abolished. But Cameron could not abolish the tax without the backing of all the other 27 EU countries. He got their backing but should he have had to grovel to the EU anyway? No. It was none of the EU’s business and they should have had nothing to do with it. It should have been the UK Parliament that decided to get rid of the “tampon tax”.

Same with another abominable tax that is still with us because of the EU. In 1993 the Conservative Government imposed VAT on domestic fuel at 8% (a bid in 1994 to raise the rate to 17.5% was defeated).The Labour opposition was against VAT on fuel so when Tony Blair was swept to power in the 1997 landslide you would think it would be bye bye VAT on fuel. But no. Blair only cut the rate to 5%. He did not abolish it. Why not? He could not. Once the Conservative Government had imposed VAT on fuel it could only be reduced to 5% it could not be abolished… because of EU rules. Again it is ridiculous. It should be up to the UK Parliament to decide tax – not the EU. EU law needs to be secondary to UK law but while we are in the EU that cannot happen.

While my main reason is sovereignty another problem is that the EU is totally contemptuous of democracy. Countries including Denmark, France and Ireland have voted against EU treaties in the past. Did the EU accept the verdict of these countries voters? No. The countries were asked to vote again and voted in favour the second time they were asked. But what if they had voted against the treaties again? Would they have been forced to vote again and again until the EU got the result they wanted?

I also think we should never have joined the EU in the first place. The Prime Minister when we joined – Edward Heath – was an egomaniac and us joining the EU was his personal vanity project. When we joined in 1973 he celebrated with the “Fanfare For Europe” which was a waste of £350000 of taxpayers money spent on concerts, art exhibitions and even a football game at Wembley which attracted only 36,000 fans. Seventy five per cent of people thought the Fanfare should not take place (“Dominic Sandbrook, “State of Emergency, The Way We Were : Britain 1970-74, pages 171-72). It should be said that Heath’s Conservative Party had been pro Europe since the 1950s but French President Charles de Gaulle had vetoed Britain joining. I suspect with the British Empire breaking up Conservative politicians were deluding themselves that Britain could rule Europe which was tripe. I also suspect that if Heath had allowed us a referendum in say 1972 (as Ireland, Denmark and Norway had) we would have rejected membership as Norway did. Norway have still not joined the EU and seem to have survived! When Heath lost power in February 1974 the new Labour Government gave us a referendum (1975) which I still think only went in favour of Europe because the UK economy was a mess at the time with inflation reaching 26 per cent!  Since the UK people have never embraced the EU it would be in Europe’s best interest to lose at best an apathetic and at worst a hostile member.

Another reason to leave the EU is that I think eventually the EU will collapse. It is not only the UK that is hostile to the EU other members are becoming more hostile. Hardly surprising when you think what austerity forced on Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain to keep the fantasy currency the Euro alive has done to those countries with horrific poverty and youth unemployment the result. Plus history has shown that all artificial unions collapse – the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, our own British Empire and the Soviet Union being examples. The EU will collapse. It might take 20, 30, 40 years but it will. Smart people get off the ship before it sinks! We have a chance to do it!

Another problem with the EU is that it is just too big. It expanded into Eastern Europe when the ex members of the Soviet bloc joined it which means the countries in it have less and less in common and it became less effective. The EU should have stuck to the founding clique of six and added just Spain and Portugal when those two countries got democratised. Groups are more effective when they are small. A bizarre but apt analogy is with the New World Order (NWO) in wrestling which started with a small clique of members ballooned out of control by having far too many members and eventually collapsed in a heap. Just like in my opinion the EU will.

If we vote “Leave” on June 23rd we will take control of our country. The UK people will decide immigration policy. If we vote for a pro immigration Labour Party and it goes wrong it will be our fault not the immigrants. It will shut UKIP up as they will have no foreigners to blame for our problems.  Also there is a big wide world outside Europe that is becoming more important (China, Japan, India to name but three countries) and we can build relationships  with them outside the EU. Add to that the fact that the EU is like FIFA arrogant corrupt and unreformable and that we should never have joined in the first place and it becomes clear the best choice is to leave.

Finally I would stress that I am not stupid enough to say everything will be perfect if we leave but I think we must take control of – and responsibility for – our country. Being out of the EU might actually get rid of some of the racism/xenophobia in  the UK since we could not blame the EU for our problems like we do now. To quote the 1997 hit by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman it is “Time to Say Goodbye” to the EU.  

Sturgeon must accept the will of the people

At 10 PM on Saturday it will be the first anniversary of that exit poll. The one that revealed that far from being the deadlocked Parliament that everyone was predicting, the 2015 UK General Election would see the Conservative Party easily defeat Labour by 316 seats to 239. As we now know the exit poll everybody mocked underestimated the Conservative performance rather than overestimated it as they got 331 seats and were able to form a (small) majority government. Labour went into turmoil, Ed Miliband resigned and to everyone’s astonishment Labour elected an obscure left wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn as their leader.

This Thursday sees the first big electoral test for the UK parties since last year’s General Election. The main elections are for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the London Mayoral election. And although Labour are the main opposition party the elections will probably not go well for Labour. In Wales a YouGov poll suggested that their vote has gone down from 42% to 33% in five years. They would still be the largest party in the Assembly but would lose their majority if that poll is right (a big if after last year). In the English council elections it’s reckoned they will lose 150 councillors. This is because in 2012 – when these elections were last contested – the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was at peak unpopularity and Labour’s performance was the high water mark in the Ed Miliband era. Even if Labour improved from last year they probably won’t reach their 2012 vote share hence the probable losses. Their best hope is London. In 2012 Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson won the election more on personal than party appeal. He is standing down having became an MP again last year. Labour candidate Sadiq Khan is favourite to beat Conservative Zac Goldsmith and if he does not Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could be in deep trouble (as I wrote in previous post “Can Corbyn Become Prime Minister?”). If Khan does win the UK press is so London centric Corbyn could use the win there to bury bad results elsewhere (as Prime Minister David Cameron did with Johnson’s win in 2012).

One thing is certain. Labour won’t be getting good news from Scotland. Last year Labour went from 41 Scottish MPs to 1. They won’t suffer as much this time if only because the Scottish National Party (SNP) had already wiped out most of Labour’s Holyrood seats back in 2011. Opinion polls have the SNP at 49% to Labour’s 23% (compared to 45% SNP to 32% Labour in 2011). While the SNP vote seems to have plateaued at 49% – they got 49% of the vote in last year’s UK election – there is no sign of it falling. So the result is widely seen as a formality.

And as a result this election has been dull. Really dull. A 24 hour Bellathon would be more exciting. So would be watching the 20 most boring 0-0 draws in Premier League history. So would watching paint dry. And grass grow..

At least until last night. At the last Scottish Leaders debate the election came at least partly to life. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had claimed in the press and on TV that if she is reelected on Thursday she expected another Scottish independence referendum in the next five years. For those who don’t know or remember the Scottish independence referendum was held as recently as September 18th 2014 and Independence was rejected by 55% to 45%. Yet with incredible arrogance she wants a second referendum!

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie summed it up perfectly ” As soon as they don’t get the result they want, they want to do it all over again. Did they not get the message? We want to stay in the UK. I would even claim that you are anti-democratic”.

Spot on. And here is the hypocrisy. Next month the UK has a referendum on whether or not we should stay in the European Union (EU) – I’ll get to that subject in another post. The last time we voted on our European membership was in 1975 – 41 years ago. Why on earth is Sturgeon talking about an another independence referendum so soon after the last one while we had to wait over 40 years for a second vote on Europe?

There cannot be a second independence referendum without the approval of the UK government. Prime Minister David Cameron should make it quite clear that a second independence referendum is not on. He should also make it clear that if the SNP try to pull a stunt like Catalonia in Spain did and hold an illegal referendum that Sturgeon will be arrested and the Scottish Parliament will be shut down.

In 2014 the SNP called the independence referendum “once in a generation”. The WWE called the Rock v John Cena match at Wrestlamania 28 “once in a lifetime”. The Rock and Cena fought again at Wrestlamania 29! But the WWE is entertainment and you don’t expect promoters to tell the truth. But we still (perhaps naively) expect politicians to be honest. The SNP said that the referendum would be “once in a generation”. A generation is NOT two years. The people of Scotland rejected independence less than two years ago. Sturgeon must say there will be no referendum in the next five years. She must accept the will of the people of Scotland.

Political Games

A blog post written by Dennis Freedman in “The Quint” caught my eye. In the post he criticised the governing body of world cricket the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its inconsistent decision making in regard to weak and strong countries. He rightly condemns them for suspending Nepal – a small cricket country –  for government interference with its cricket board but not punishing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and (especially) South Africa – all big cricket countries –  for exactly the same offence. Freedman is quite right to attack the ICC for its inconsistency on this issue but he misses out on a fundamental point. Not only is  the punishment wrong but so is the ICC’s insistence that governments keep out of the affairs of cricket boards. To be fair cricket is not the only sport that does this – FIFA among others do too – but they are all wrong. And here is why.

Governments govern a county. Like it or not sport is part of a country. It is part of society. It cannot – or should not – be detached from society. If a government interferes in other parts of society – which it does – surely it should interfere in sport too?

Now in an ideal world a government would not have to interfere in sport because governing bodies would be competent and reflect their society. But they are not. In the case of cricket the reason governments in Nepal, Pakistan and India (and in India’s case the Supreme Court) interfere in the affairs of their cricket boards is that they are corrupt. In India for example the Supreme Court ordered Narayanswami Srinivasan to step down as Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) while they investigated a spot fixing scandal. Incredibly that did not stop him becoming ICC chairman. He was eventually forced out of his ICC role too and his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Chennai Super Kings was suspended for two years after the Supreme Court found out that his son in law was guilty of placing bets on the 2013 IPL. The BCCI was corrupt but if the Supreme Court had not investigated no one would be the wiser.

Same with FIFA. I’ve gone over FIFA’s corruption problems before but the corruption would not have been exposed if the FBI in America and the Swiss authorities had not investigated it. Can corrupt bodies police themselves? No. Someone has to do it for them. That means government agencies and courts.

Now it is true to say that sport in the UK, US, Australia and Europe (well Western Europe anyway) does not have as much of a corruption problem. The problem here is racism, sexism and homophobia (as this week’s sexism scandal in UK cycling and the resignation of head coach Shane Sutton shows). While that it is true that these problems are in society as well as sport at least society outside sport is trying to do something about it. For example last year a report by Lord Mervyn Davies recommended a target of 33% women on boards of UK FTSE 100 companies by 2020. Has anybody suggested that 33% of employees or board members in UK football, cricket or rugby clubs be female? No. What a surprise. They should. Meanwhile in 2014 then head of BBC television Danny Cohen announced a ban on all male panels on BBC television programmes. But surprise surprise that did not include sports programmes like “Match Of The Day” which still has the same old male, stale panel (even ESPN baseball has Jessica Mendoza). Why were all male sports panels not banned?

The other reason governments need to interfere in sport is accountability. Human beings being what we are we cannot control ourselves. If we are allowed to do whatever we like we will do. FIFA became arrogant and corrupt because it was accountable to no one. Football, cricket and cycling are full of sexism and racism because they are accountable to no one. The UK MPs expenses scandal of 2009 showed that politicians can’t behave themselves and that Parliament needed an independent regulator. The gas, electricity and TV industries in the UK are regulated independently to make sure they are fairly run and prices are kept down (In theory. The energy regulator is awful but that is a different issue). Former Lib Dem politician founder of the homeless charity Shelter and former England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) member Des Wilson once wrote “Is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be almost unique in its ability to be so?”

And he is right. Sport is a part of society must play by the rules of society and must be regulated by society. The way the ICC has treated Nepal is a disgrace. It should stop. And sport should submit to government regulation. The party is over.

This could be a crunch week for Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has been leader of the Labour Party for less than three months but already the Party is in total chaos and this week could be the most critical so far. There is already talk of Labour MPs wanting rid of him and that could grow this week.

Today he finally succumbed to demands from his own Shadow Cabinet for Labour MPs to be given a free vote – that is to be allowed to make up their own minds rather than have to vote the way the leader tells them to – on the question of whether or not the UK should bomb the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron has called a vote in the UK parliament for Wednesday. It was clear that Corbyn would not be able to make his MPs toe the line and that a big number would vote against their leader. To stop the party from falling apart he had to allow the free vote.

To my mind Corbyn is right to oppose air strikes – which will not defeat IS will only kill/injure innocent people and make the UK even more of a terror target – but he was wrong not to allow a free vote. This is an issue of individual conscience. MPs should be able to make up their minds on this serious issue without having to toe a party line (this should also apply to Conservative MPs). But at least David Cameron has taken a position and stuck to it. Not only has Corbyn taken the wrong position he did not even stick to it – making him both wrong and weak – a fatal combination.

But it sums up the whole problem of Corbyn’s leadership – the vast majority of Labour MPs NEVER wanted him as their leader. And their fears have been confirmed. The problem with Corbyn is not his domestic policy – there is a chance that his anti austerity policies could be accepted by the time of the 2020 UK General Election – but two other factors. His defence and foreign policies will not be accepted by the UK public who already perceive him as being utterly incapable of defending the country or responding to a crisis. It does not help that he put a nuclear disarmer Ken Livingstone in co charge of the review of Labour’s defence policy – over the head of defence spokesperson Maria Eagle – which looks to critics like Corbyn is prejudging the review and has alarmed the majority of his MPs.

But the main problem with Corbyn is not his left wing policies but the fact that the man is totally out of his depth and has been promoted way beyond his ability. In 32 years as an MP he was never more than an obscure backbencher. No one cared what he did. Whether he sung the National Anthem or bowed to the UK Queen didn’t matter but when you become leader of one of the UK’s two big parties – and thus a candidate for Prime Minister – everything you do is scrutinised and you get attacked to trivial things. Former Opposition leaders Michael Foot and William Hague got ridiculed for wearing a donkey jacket and a baseball cap respectively. Unfair? Yes. But that is the UK Press for you. Plus the fact that Corbyn rebelled against Labour leaders over 500 times and therefore can hardly force his authority on his rebellious MPs.

And he is not popular with the public. The latest polls give him a satisfaction rating of minus 12. Usually new leaders get a honeymoon period with the UK public but this has not happened here. And Corbyn’s first electoral test is on Thursday with a by-election in Oldham West and Royton which should be a walk in the park for Labour. Firstly it has a majority of 14,738 or 34.17 per cent. Secondly the late MP Michael Meacher was a Corbyn supporter which suggests that this constituency should accept Corbyn’s views. Yet Labour insiders reckon at best they will win this seat narrowly and at worst suffer a humiliating loss to UKIP. In a seat like this defeat would be a disaster and shivers would go down the spines of Labour MPs.

Perhaps a humiliating loss to UKIP might be the best thing that could happen to Labour as it would make them realise that Corbyn is toxic and has no chance in 2020. But not only would they need to overthrow Corbyn but they would have to bypass their own members. For unbelievably Labour members who elected Corbyn still think he is doing a good job. So they would need to nominate one candidate who could then be elected unopposed – as Conservative MPs did in 2003 after they overthrew Iain Duncan Smith. Dan Jarvis – who has only been an MP since 2011 and is thus untainted by the Blair/Brown Governments – would be a good candidate.

This matters because the UK needs an electable Opposition which we don’t have. It is important because if there is not a good Opposition the Government gets complacent. The Conservative Government has its problems just now. A threatened strike by junior doctors(now suspended), Chancellor George Osborne’s humiliating defeat and subsequent U-turn on tax credit cuts and a bullying story involving former Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Plenty for a competent Opposition to get their teeth into. But we don’t have a competent Opposition. For the sake of the country – and even the Conservative Party – we need one. And soon.

Can Corbyn become Prime Minister?

A party who had suffered two bad General Election defeats elects a new leader. Everybody reckons the party has made a terrible mistake. The MPs and party members are at loggerheads. The Government thinks it is on easy street. Some of its members say – in private – “That’s it we’re home and dry. No need to worry about the next election.”* Despite the fact that the Government has a small majority and a lot of its policies are unpopular. While members of the new leader’s own party are unhappy describing their leader as “a dud, an aberration, an error crying out for correction” and reassuring themselves that their leader will be “out by Christmas”.**

Am I writing about Labour’s shock new leader Jeremy Corbyn? No. I’m writing about Margaret Thatcher’s election to the Conservative Party leadership in 1975. Ridiculous as it seems now Thatcher was seen as an unelectable extremist who would drive the Conservatives too far to the right – and her gender didn’t help – the Economist magazine said that she was unelectable because she was a woman. Conservative voters and activists wanted Edward Heath re elected but the MPs – who were the electorate – wanted change.

Today of course Corbyn is regarded as too extreme and the party members (who elected him) are at odds with the MPs (the vast majority of whom are against him). And Thatcher’s election could be seen as a backlash against unpopular former Prime Minister Edward Heath just as Corbyn’s election is a backlash against unpopular former Prime Minister Tony Blair. So can Corbyn emulate Thatcher and win the next UK General Election? (to be held in May 2020).

The omens are not good. Thatcher was never popular as leader of the Opposition. But for two events she would be but a footnote in history.

The first event was Prime Minister James Callaghan’s failure to call a General Election in October 1978 when everyone thought he would. He didn’t because some polls had the Conservatives ahead by 2% – although others had Labour narrowly ahead. But opinion polls can be wrong – as happened in 1970, February 1974, 1992 and of course 2015. And I suspect had he held an election in 1978 fear of Thatcher’s gender – the 1970s were a very sexist decade in the UK – plus fear of Thatcher’s perceived right wing polices – would have produced a similar result to 1992 or 2015 – a small Government majority of between 11 and 21.

The next – and decisive – event was the “winter of discontent”. That was the name given to a wave of public sector strikes in January/February 1979 that led to among other things rubbish lying uncollected and the dead going unburied. This turned the people against the trade unions and by extension the Labour party since Labour depended on the unions for their funding (as they still do). The Conservatives took advantage of this and when the Government lost a vote of no confidence on March 28th 1979 and was forced to call a General Election on May 3rd the Conservatives won. But even then most pundits thought they won the election despite Thatcher rather than because of her.

The precedent of the 1970s suggests that Corbyn will only win the next election if there is some crisis that discredits the Conservative Government or say a banking or an economic crisis. If the next election is fought in normal circumstances the conservatism (as in fear of change/the unknown) of the UK people will take over. Add to that boundary changes which could increase the Conservative majority from 12 to 50 and Corbyn’s task gets even harder.

In fact he will do well to survive to lead Labour into the 2020 election. While Thatcher at least had the support of the majority of her party’s MPs only a tiny majority of the Labour MPs he has to lead voted for him today and at least nine Labour MPs have refused to serve in his Shadow Cabinet.

I suspect most Labour MPs – aware that he won today with 59.5% of the vote – will hold their fire until the party’s first post election test which will be in May next year with Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and London Mayoral elections. Of those the London Mayor election is by far the most important. First of all Corbyn’s Islington North constituency is in London.  Secondly London was just about the only part of the UK where Labour did well last May. Add to that the fact that current London Mayor Boris Johnson – who is more popular in London than his party – is standing down and it is clear Labour candidate Sadiq Khan should win. If Labour do not win the mayoral election it will be a disaster for the party – and Corbyn’s leadership.

Back in 1975 Thatcher won her first electoral test – a by election in marginal Woolwich West turning a Labour majority of 2,382 into a Conservative majority of 3,541 – which bought Thatcher time. Labour winning the London Mayoral election would do the same for Corbyn. But if they did not win in Corbyn’s own backyard Labour MPs could panic and do to him what the Conservatives did to Iain Duncan Smith back in 2003 and overthrow him.

Labour members by electing Corbyn have gambled that public opinion could swing in his favour. But the history of the UK suggests that that will not happen unless events go his way. And relying on events going in your favour is a very risky tactic…

*Dominic Sandbrook “Seasons in the Sun The Battle for Britain 1974 – 1979” page 252.

**ibid. page 259.