Chris Moncrieff: Electoral abyss is looming for Labour

The knives are, once again, out for Jeremy Corbyn following the Sleaford by-election.
The knives are, once again, out for Jeremy Corbyn following the Sleaford by-election.
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IS the Labour Party staggering towards its doom? That may be a melodramatic question, but the fact remains that a growing number of level-headed Labour MPs fear for the party’s future under its present leadership.

Perhaps the most telling comment came from veteran backbencher David Winnick, who is certainly not given to sensationalism. He said in reference to the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election: “It was an appalling result for Labour. If we were to continue in this way then the indications are 2020 will be an electoral disaster and the possibility of a Labour government is very remote indeed.”

Strong stuff. Labour’s slide to fourth at Sleaford, below even Ukip and the Liberal Democrats, was certainly a grim result. What they should do, but are probably incapable of, is to reduce drastically the influence of the trade unions in the leadership election process, and give MPs a far bigger say.

That way, they would get a leader that backbenchers would generally support and not one who is despised by large swathes of them.

Meanwhile, there were jitters at Conservative HQ that Sleaford might replicate the disaster of Richmond Park. There was a huge sigh of relief when the Tories won comfortably. But all the parties should be worried about the upsurge of Ukip at Sleaford. They can no longer be ignored.

THERE was never going to be the prospect the maverick Boris Johnson would suddenly, or even ever, mutate into your typical tight-lipped, po-faced Foreign Secretary who would never say anything disobliging, even if true, about a dodgy ally.

So why did Theresa May, who knows all about Boris, decide to give him this highly sensitive job? Did she want a gust of fresh air to blow through the fusty corridors of the Foreign Office?

Or did she want to enrage former Justice Secretary Michael Gove whose savage remarks about Boris cut him out of the Tory leadership race? I don’t think so – May is far too wise and grown-up a politician to indulge in such fourth-form revenge.

Now, May has had to inflict a sharp rap on Boris’s knuckles for his critical comments about the Saudi Arabian regime, which everyone knows to be true, but which you do not expect a Foreign Secretary to utter. Perhaps, perversely, she actually wanted this to happen.

Boris did not apologise – everyone would have known how hollow that would have been. Admittedly, his subsequent remarks in Bahrain were 
far more conciliatory.

May can hardly complain. She appointed him knowing what sort of man he was. Perhaps the wisest comment has come from an ex-Tory Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind: “A Foreign Secretary is either boring, or dangerous. And Boris is certainly not boring.”

IS it too fanciful to suggest that there might be something a little sinister about the Plough pub, the hostelry closest to the Prime Minister’s country residence Chequers?

The Chinese are notorious for placing electronic bugs wherever they can. Surely, it would be a huge advantage to listen into visitors to Chequers when they call in for a pint?

Once, in a Beijing hotel we were being briefed by a British diplomat about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s activities the following day. Suddenly, the diplomat raised his voice to a high volume, before dropping it down again.

The diplomat rightly assumed that the Chinese would be bugging this meeting, so since he wanted them to know what he was saying, he raised his voice.

Within a few minutes, a Chinese official phoned to perform a U-turn and agree with the diplomat’s view. He had plainly been eavesdropping.

HOW refreshing it is that Theresa May is refusing to emulate some of her predecessors who quite blatantly used their Christmas cards as an ego-trip by imposing photographs of themselves and their families on them. Happily, Theresa May has bucked that trend and has chosen some delightful Christmassy paintings by schoolchildren. Good for her – I hope that sets a new trend.

Meanwhile, I hear George Osborne had to sign more than 1,000 cards every Christmas when he was Chancellor. Couldn’t the Government purchase a cheap printing machine to avoid such a chore?

Chris Moncrieff is the former political editor of the Press Association.