I like Emily Thornberry. I think she’d make a great leader of her party. Something I wish the rest Labour would wake up to, especially considering we’re on our second Conservative female Prime Minister, while Labour, for all its claims to support equality and progressiveness, is yet to elect a woman as leader.
This was a fact that David Lidington, standing in for their leader, enjoyed pointing out during PMQs on Wednesday to Ms Thornberry, who was covering for theirs. It was a fair comment, but so was Thornberry’s reply that, even though the Tories currently have a woman as their leader, they seem inordinately keen to be rid of her.
Emily Thornberry’s performances in PMQs always give me some hope, that somewhere amidst all the various in-fighting and regressiveness in the Labour Party, there’s a better party waiting to burst out. Sadly, I suspect that right now that event would be more akin to the chest-burster scene from the movie Alien and equally as bloody. The snapping little beastie would doubtless be sporting a Momentum T-shirt as it sticks its head through the political heart of the party and may even have the face of John Lansman. But all that will of course depend on the gestation period.
I admire Emily Thornberry for many of the reasons I don’t really rate Jeremy Corbyn. She’s clear-headed, clear-voiced, forthright, able to think on her feet and respond to circumstances as they arise. Even though Corbyn’s performances have got better in recent months - certainly much better since Labour snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last year – he still seems to need a plan to work from. A pre-prepared call and response that he seems unable to work without, especially when the other side are lobbing the unscripted insults. For me he now acts and sounds like a puppet, with the leaders of Momentum probably pulling the strings.
Not that I’m a fan of the Punch and Judy PMQs that have become endemic over the past several years. Even after claims by successive PMs and opposition leaders that they want to see something more constructive than clever one-liners and set up jokes, they’re still the main attraction at the Westminster circus, and frankly it’s getting a little depressing.
That’s also why I found Ms Thornberry’s ‘coalition of cavemen’ comment a little unfortunate. Apart from it being in itself a somewhat non-PC accusation – surely it should have been ‘cavepeople’ unless she wasn’t including cavewomen in her observation - it was yet more of this pre-prepared oh-so-hilarious banter that makes for good telly, but not for particularly good politics.
I agree that many male MPs are probably more in touch with their inner Fred Flintstone than they are with Wilma, but Thornberry’s quip was strangely at odds with the thrust of her own arguments and with the Speaker’s rebuke about latent sexism in the chamber. It’s also an accusation that could apply equally to many of her own male colleagues if recent claims from Haringey are to be believed.
But the content of the debate was intrigued me too. Whilst it was good to see Labour fighting for electoral reform on voting age, something which I wholeheartedly support, it seemed inconsistent to me given that their leader has repeatedly blocked a root and branch reform of the rest of our antiquated electoral process.
In 2016 for example, Labour MPs were reportedly whipped not to attend the vote on a 10 minute rule motion on electoral reform brought forward by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, a vote she only narrowly lost. Even though some Labour MPs have expressed support for change, Jeremy Corbyn has remained luke-warm on the idea.
So why the epiphany on voting age? Well the obvious explanation is the apparent shift in Labour’s membership profile towards a younger demographic. Giving them the vote would probably improve their overall vote share, although as I never tire of pointing out to evangelistic Labour supporters, party member numbers do not necessarily mean electoral success, ironically because of the very voting system their leadership refuses to dispense with.
So it seems for all of Corbyn’s claims to be sensitive to the will of the people over issues such as Brexit and his own leadership position, the only time he and the Labour NEC will consider electoral reform, is when it looks like working in their favour.
And in many ways, it’s that same sense of pragmatism that’s driving the upsurge of support for Labour. Not necessarily because they’re seen as a progressive alternative to the Tory death grip on our country, but more that they’re the ONLY alternative, in which case we should overlook all their other foibles on grounds of simple pragmatism.
For me that’s a sad indictment of the two party political conundrum we continue to find ourselves in, and one which, for the moment anyway, Labour offers no viable long term solution to.