Belfast Telegraph

Now that he is in thick of it, Corbyn must rule by consensus

By Liam Clarke

It almost seemed as if Jeremy Corbyn didn't realise you had to hit the ground running if you got to be leader of the Opposition. He expected to refuse all interviews and then find no journalists waiting for him ("bothering me") as he left the Commons for his taxi.

He looked ridiculous. It was like a scene from The Thick Of It, the sitcom about Labour and Tory media messes. In it, a fictional Labour spin doctor described one innocent but harassed politician as looking "like a disgraced geography teacher" and a "sandal-wearing nonce" as he ran the gauntlet of Press questioning.

During his campaign Corbyn avoided people who disagreed with him. In Belfast, for instance, the only politicians to meet him were Sinn Fein. He didn't seem to realise this might not go down well and ignored invitations from the local Labour Party and a number of voluntary bodies.

All ham-fisted stuff, like not singing the national anthem at a remembrance event and expecting nobody to pass any remarks. There was a swift climb-down on that one, and we can expect more of the same as his party and trade union friends tell him to cool it.

In fact, key Corbyn aides realised very quickly that they needed help. That is why we see people like Vernon Coaker, Michael Dugher and Andy Burnham in the shadow Cabinet.

Coaker, the shadow Ulster Secretary, was Yvette Cooper's campaign manager against Corbyn, and Dugher managed Burnham's campaign.

The leadership results showed that these people connected with MPs, which is why Coaker and Dugher, in particular, were brought in.

Burnham was the most left-wing of the other candidates, but he will be a steadying influence, perhaps the heir apparent. These people got concessions because, after Cooper and others refused to serve, Corbyn needed them.

Coaker made it clear in the Commons that he would basically run the show on Northern Ireland. "Let me say straight away to the Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) that it is the Opposition's intention, as well as my own, to pursue a bipartisan approach based on the agreements reached, in particular the principle of consent.

"Our policy remains absolutely the same and I emphasise that to the Secretary of State and all those who are listening to or reading this debate."

Ms Villiers had asked him if Labour still adhered to the consent principle, despite earlier statements by John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, and Corbyn, that they favoured a united Ireland. McDonnell was sitting close to Coaker so the answer could not have been clearer. Corbyn may try to clip his wings at some stage, but that would be a big risk. He knows how difficult an issue this is and runs away from interviews on it.

It also emerged in the debate that Labour will support the Tories in passing welfare reform legislation for here. McDonnell previously said he would "swim through vomit" to oppose welfare reform, but he never uttered a word.

Coaker will also oppose Corbyn on the scrapping of Trident. So will Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite and one of Labour's principal paymasters.

McCluskey has also sent out warnings on campaigning against Europe. He is quite sensible in his views on NI - he has enough members here to know the situation.

The Unite executive only agreed to back Corbyn by a couple of votes and he will have to satisfy sceptics here, just as he will in the parliamentary party.

McCluskey is no shrinking violet; yesterday he sent Corbyn a rocket about not appointing more women.

Here we can expect an early review on whether Labour should contest elections here. That is something that Corbyn said he was personally opposed to, but was open to discussing.

There will be a lot of other issues he didn't like the sound of when he only had Islington to answer to that he will have to swallow now. That is how politics go - you satisfy people or they ditch you.

He had better mean his promises about ruling by consensus.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph