The Greasy Pole column from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
It was last September that Theresa May spoke out on the matter of her feeling strong and stable in her place at Ten Downing Street: ‘I think the next election will be in 2020. I’m not going to be calling a snap election’. At the time she had a majority in the House of Commons and the Labour opposition under Jeremy Corbyn was in such disarray that it was usual for the more boisterous Tory benches to show how exultantly they despised him in guffaws of ‘More! . . . More! . . . ’ each time he sat down after speaking. Meanwhile one Labour MP had rated Corbyn’s performance in Prime Ministers Questions as ‘a fucking disaster’ – an opinion which, perhaps similarly worded, was crudely popular on the opposition benches. Except that in May the Prime Minster announced that she had changed her mind so there would be an election on 8 June. And when that day came, after the votes had been counted and all those Tory MPs had been voted out, there been such a change among the Labour ranks that Corbyn was welcomed by them with enthusiastic applause as a victor, which carried him onto the Front Bench wreathed in smiles.
That assessment of Corbyn and PMQ came from John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow In Furness where employment is heavily dependent on the production of those Trident nuclear submarines which Corbyn opposes. Woodcock thinks that under Corbyn the party is, to use again what might be called shipyard language, ‘fucked’. In the Labour leadership election he voted for Liz Kendall – possibly under the impression that Corbyn was not a serious candidate, but perhaps his knowledge of the electoral process is not as penetrating as he would like it to be; his majority in general elections has fallen from 5,208 in 2010 to 209 in 2017. Elsewhere, on the fringes of Parliament, the language was less manipulative but equally forceful for its doubts about where Corbyn stood on the issue of the European Union. For example the book All Out War by Tim Shipman, the political editor of the Sunday Times, claims to provide something of a ‘ringside seat’ on the decision-making processes at work during these tumultuous times. Overall, Corbyn does not feature as one of the more dynamic, demanding influences at work for change because he ‘. . . had no experience of top-level politics until he won the Labour leadership in September 2015’. There is reference to a ‘lacklustre performance’ in the matter of the continuing membership of British capitalism in the EU; his ‘ . . . behaviour stoked bemused irritation among his colleagues..’ Another, but similar, view from the political side came from ex-Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls; ‘If I’d still been in Parliament, I don’t think I could have served in Jeremy’s Shadow Cabinet; not because I believe in sulking in tents, but because it would have been impossible to serve in any kind of senior position if I had fundamental disagreements with the leadership on core policy issues, and I suspect there would have been many’.
The matter of whether that would have been good or bad for the Labour government was complicated by the various talents on offer. Consider for example Gloria De Piero, from a family originating in Italy but afflicted with severe and persistent impoverishment because neither parent was healthy enough to hold onto paid employment. But De Piero plugged on through all the stresses, achieving some handsomely relevant qualifications which were enough to carry her into a career in TV journalism with the likes of Jonathan Dimbleby and then into politics. In February 2010 she resigned from GMTV to try for the Labour nomination for the Ashfield seat where the sitting MP Geoff Hoon was stepping down after a varied career including a number of ministerial posts entailing predictable ambitions for the party leadership. But this was not all plain sailing, for Hoon was involved in a series of blunders and worse which eventually earned him the title of Geoff Buffoon. Whatever his defence in these matters it was clearly time for him to give way to a less contentious candidate and De Piero stood out for this. One outcome was that in her first attempt at the seat, in 2010, De Piero had a majority of 192 (compared to Hoon’s 2005 figure of 10,213) resulting from a swing of 17.2 percent to the Liberal candidate Jason Zadrozny – which was quickly wiped out in time for the next election in 2015 after Zadrozny was prosecuted for sexual offences.
However De Piero was not influenced by the stresses, the questions, the doubts about being a Labour candidate. At some stage – when she was 15 years old – she had been persuaded into posing for some topless photographs. The matter remained dormant until 2010, when it was reported in The Mail On Sunday which had bought the photos and again in October 2013 when a news agency was attempting to buy them. De Piero’s protests were supported by a former Tory MP describing the matter as a ‘ . . . quasi-sexual or moralistic assault on her behaviour as a 15-year old girl’ and at De Piero’s request the newspaper sent her the photos and the negatives with a written apology. Now she is more experienced; in July last year she demonstrated the assumed influence of a Front Bencher by contributing a piece to The Sun which was ‘begging’ that paper’s readers to join the Labour Party so that they could vote for ‘ . . . a leader who recognises that the Labour Party was founded to be a Party of Government’. A year later she had changed her mind to such an extent that she had been able to accept a place in Corbyn’s team in the vital job of Shadow Justice Minister.
Gloria De Piero is not the only Labour MP to change their mind over accepting the temptation to work with Jeremy Corbyn. Roberta Blackman-Woods (‘I no longer have confidence in you as a leader’) is one. Another is Karl Turner (‘I’ve eaten humble pie over criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn’). And Holly Lynch (‘An ineffective Leader’). This fact informs us, and strengthens us, in our opposition to the people who are elected to rule over us in a social system which is essentially, inhumanely, chaotic.