THE BLOG

Where Is the Labour Party?

04/01/2016 10:48 GMT | Updated 03/01/2017 10:12 GMT

As I write, the next great front of rain is about to sweep across the north of the British Isles, bringing further misery and chaos to many communities. A week ago, much of the north of England was shoulder-deep in 'once-in-a-generation' floods. The cameras have - until the next flood - moved on from either side of the Pennines and Cumbria, but people's lives remain disrupted at best and ruined at worst.

Throughout of all of this, the Tories have remained surprisingly dominant. Over the Christmas period, when the noisy background hum of politics temporarily fades, the media's focus shifts and an event like flooding can gain greater prominence. The opportunity to make the Tories look bungling and unresponsive was clear, and yet the reporting focused on the Christmas Day convening of COBRA, the Government's emergency committee, and David Cameron's visit to affected communities. Where were the Labour party?

The Tories aren't to blame for the rain, but they are certainly to blame for the aftermath. The lack of investment in flood defences over years left a barn-door-sized target for Labour to hit time and again. Conservatives lecture constantly on the importance of political, financial and social security, and warn direly of the dangers of electing Jeremy Corbyn and his ilk to any sort office. But the basic home and family security of the thousands of families across a large section of the country was washed away over Christmas. The Tories literally didn't fix the roof before the rains came to the so-called Northern Powerhouse. The headlines should really write themselves.

Where were the Labour spokespeople on this? Why was their shadow minister for flooding, whoever that is, not doing media days and touring the region, maximising the Tories' embarrassment and demanding answers? Where are the Commons Library figures on investment in southern vs northern England? Will there be an urgent question in the house once Parliament reconvenes? Why has Labour not organised polling to keep the story in the news and highlight the public's demand for greater flood protection?

I am sure that many local Labour MPs have done good work in their communities - but that is not enough. It is the job, absolutely the key role, of Official Opposition to keep the Government on the skids, to keep them honest, to point out mistakes and how things could be done better. At the moment, it appears the real opposition is coming from flooded individuals who are, via the media, showing how local and national government have failed them.

Indeed, the only news from the Labour camp over the Christmas period was an incessant, bad-tempered rumble ahead of this week's reshuffle. Yet again, the party has turned inwards when it so urgently it needs to do the opposite. An opposition is no use to anyone if it doesn't look and act like a government in waiting, and yet what we seem to have here is a ragbag quasi-Maoist postgraduate debating society, so concerned with arguing with itself that it's forgotten the point of being a political party in the first place.

That makes them look as out of touch and uninterested as the toffiest of Tories - a great irony and a damning failure given Jeremy Corbyn's promise of a 'new politics'. As far as the floods go, the opportunity to the make political weather has probably been missed. But for the good of the country, the reshuffled Labour party must start producing some results if not to be abandoned by precisely those same people who put its leader there.