THE importance of governments being held account by their opponents to enhance the policy-making process has been long established.
It was also acknowledged by David Cameron in a generous tribute to Ed Miliband, the then Labour leader, after the 2015 general election.
“He’d done what an opposition leader is meant to do: holding us to account, forcing us to move on policies,” writes Cameron in his memoir For The Record.
Yet, while Cameron and many Tories, did respect the Doncaster North MP to varying degrees, they have always held his successor Jeremy Corbyn in contempt.
And while the choice between Cameron and Miliband four years ago was an uninspiring one, both men offered a degree of competence.
The same cannot be said when the electorate is, at some point, asked if Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn should lead a country that becomes more divided by the day. Not only has Johnson brought democracy into disrepute by suspending Parliament to thwart his Brexit opponents, but his party has been aided by Corbyn’s abject ineffectiveness.
The context is this. Since Cameron’s successor Theresa May lost her majority in the 2017 election, the Tory party – and therefore the Government – has been ungovernable.
Bogged down by Brexit, its inability to deliver key legislation has only been matched by the Opposition’s failure to put the Government out of its misery.
When May’s EU withdrawal plan was defeated by an unprecedented 230 votes, Corbyn’s vote of no confidence in HM Government was rejected by MPs a day later.
When Corbyn – as Opposition leader – offered his services as a caretaker PM to see through Brexit, this proposition was even rebuffed by many in his own party.
And when Johnson caused a constitutional crisis by proroguing Parliament while also throwing 21 honourable Tory MPs out of his Parliamentary party, Corbyn was powerless to act.
Don’t get me wrong. Corbyn should be respected as an effective campaigner. He has done much to highlight the worst ravages of austerity and I’m slightly sceptical about those weekend polls which condemned the 70-year-old as the worst opposition leader ever.
However, the problem is that a Johnson-led Tory party will continue to take liberties with Parliament – and the conduct of government – if Corbyn does not raise his game. He is the problem.
And the reason is this – populist policies, like free NHS prescriptions in England, can’t mask the distrust and division within its own ranks. It’s so bad that it makes the Tories appear well-run by comparison.
On Brexit, some MPs from Leave-supporting areas, like Don Valley’s Caroline Flint, are pushing for a deal – she was among those to hold talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week.
In contrast, Emily Thornberry – the Shadow Foreign Secretary – wants Labour to become an unashamedly Leave party while Corbyn’s ‘‘constructive ambiguity’’ now points to the negotiation of a deal that will be put alongside the option of Remain to the people in a referendum in which he would stay neutral, the approach Harold Wilson followed in 1975.
And then there is the deeply unsatisfactory state of the Labour Party. Just as the Tories continue to be embarrassed by allegations of Islamophobia, the same applies to Corbyn when it comes to anti-Semitism.
Hard-left Momentum activists are also in positions of power to userp moderate and respected Labour MPs – Hull North’s Diana Johnson and former deputy leader Harriet Harman are among those who are being targeted.
Meanwhile Andrew Fisher, Corbyn’s head of policy, denounced the leader’s team for their “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency” after confirming his intention to stand down.
And then there was the extraordinary eve-of-conference attempt to oust Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, which only served to highlight the disarray, division and disunity. “It’s a media story,” moaned Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary. It was nothing of the sort – the media were not trying to oust Watson.
But this furore – sparked by Watson’s repeated contradictions of Corbyn – has revealed the depth of enmity within Labour’s ranks. And all this will do, unless Jeremy Corbyn gets a grip or is replaced by a more moderate unifying leader, is empower Boris Johnson to carry on tearing up the Parliamentary conventions which have always served this country’s democratic ‘‘checks and balances’’ so well. It will also leave the country with the worst of both worlds at a time of political and Parliamentary crisis – the most undemocratic government and most enfeebled opposition in living memory. That cannot be good for the future of the UK, can it?
Tom Richmond is Comment Editor for The Yorkshire Post. @OpinionYP