Closing the debate on the failed no confidence motion in Theresa May, Environment Secretary Michael Gove applauded the member for Barrow and Furness, John Woodcock, who told the House that Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell were “not fit to hold high office”.
Woodcock, who has represented his shipbuilding community since 2010, spoke bravely, but then again he is no longer shackled by the Labour whip. He now sits as an independent, having been suspended from the party last year.
“It takes courage,” said Gove of Woodcock. “And he has it, having been elected on a Labour mandate in a working class constituency – to say that the leader of the party that he joined as a boy is not fit to be Prime Minister. He speaks for his constituents, and he speaks for the country.”
Of course Gove has his own agenda, but that’s not really the point here. What is more important, above the ambitions of any single politician, is the state of Her Majesty’s Opposition and the 69-year-old man in charge.
People say that Corbyn is a great constituency MP in Islington North, London. I read a profile recently on The London Economic, a left-wing website, which pointed out that when he famously refused tickets for the Rugby World Cup in 2015, citing a prior engagement, it was because he was in his office advising a homeless constituent.
They also say that he has a great immediacy with ordinary people. His refusal to compromise – on anything pretty much, including the dress code for Remembrance Sunday in Whitehall – gives him an authenticity lacking in other leading politicians.
However, a good constituency MP and a good leader are not the same thing. No matter where you fall personally on the political spectrum, the democratic and parliamentary conventions of our country demand a series of checks and balances against the government. In this, the party – or coalition of parties – in Opposition plays a vital part in questioning and regulating policies through the process of debate and scrutiny.
You might be forgiven for forgetting this, given the way things have gone in recent years. The House of Commons has become a nasty, jeering and, at times, ungovernable arena in which the Speaker, John Bercow, has struggled to keep order.
It is also supposed to be the place where the Opposition proves that it is the government in waiting, led by an individual ready to become Prime Minister.
Here Corybn has failed to shine; repeatedly refusing to put forth a coherent alternative to the Prime Minister’s EU deal and instead using the opportunity of failure to call only for a general election.
This highlights Corbyn’s major dereliction of duty. In his determination to prove himself right, he over-rides the fact that he is not just Labour leader, but also Opposition Leader.
This role brings with it a certain kind of collective responsibility for the national interest. And with the tabled EU withdrawal date just over two months away on March 29, it takes a twisted kind of logic to argue that what the country actually needs right now is a general election.
Of course, I can see how Corbyn’s idealism inspires his followers, especially the young who back the influential Momentum movement in their droves.
When I discuss politics with teenagers and those in their early twenties, the word I hear more than any other is ‘change’.
This is the generation who have grown up with very little memory of anything other than a Conservative Prime Minister.
I understand their frustration. I was young when a jubilant tide swept Tony Blair to power in 1997. The Conservatives were jaded and discredited back then too, and Europe was once again at the heart of it.
Yet whatever you think of what happened next, you cannot argue with the fact that Blair came with a full set of ideas, plus a party and an electorate who so wanted him to win.
In comparison, Corbyn is blinkered. And arrogant. He talks a good game about tackling social problems, dealing with poverty and homelessness and sorting out the NHS.
However, with no clear plan for how to proceed with the EU, and therefore no published vision of how the United Kingdom would sit in the wider sphere of world trade and global financial markets, his tactics leaves the vulnerable even more exposed to political chaos and recession.
If he wants to be Prime Minister, he should start acting like a Prime Minister. And what he must learn is that a good one does not always put himself – or herself – first.