Leaving aside his presentational blunders (over singing the national anthem and joining the privy council, for example), Jeremy Corbyn’s more serious problem is his string of errors in leading and managing his party. Here’s the list to date:
- Appointing John McDonnell. When told about the appointment, Labour’s Mike Gapes was so shocked he performed a double-take on live radio. The Shadow Chancellor immediately blundered on the fiscal charter, and went on to mess up the Autumn Statement response.
- Repeated u-turns on Trident. The long-standing supporter of CND has tried repeatedly to force his party, his MPs and his Shadow Defence team to oppose Trident renewal, but has had to back down repeatedly – leaving an awkward stalemate as a source of recurring frustration. The issue shifted many MPs from a position of nervous neutrality to outright scepticism about their new leader.
- Hiring Seumas Milne. Just in case anyone was left in any doubt about his plans to seize control of Labour’s machine for the hard left, he went on to appoint Seumas Milne as his communications chief. Milne’s past pronouncements on the supposedly neglected upsides of various murderous regimes are a problem, but far more difficult is his combination of blinkered ideology and inexperience in the role. Even if he reliably backed democracies against tyrants, which he doesn’t, he would still be a poor appointment. Labour’s chaotic media operation since the hiring speaks for itself.
- Setting up Momentum, a party-within-a-party. Given the existing fears over Corbynite entryism, choosing to establish a mass membership pressure group to enforce loyalty to the leader probably wasn’t the best way to reassure the relatively sensible elements of the Labour Party. Around the country, Momentum supporters are throwing their new-found weight around in Constituency Labour Parties, and even openly discussing deselecting MPs deemed to be Blairites or ‘red Tories’. As well as further alienating tracts of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the risk for Corbyn is that deselected MPs would find themselves with nothing to lose – and thus have a free hand to try to unseat him.
- Appointing a disloyal Head of Policy. Hiring Milne isn’t Corbyn’s only error as he seeks to perform a swift dash through the institutions (having failed to perform the more traditional long march over the previous three decades). His new policy chief, Andrew Fisher, turned out to have supported a Class War candidate against Labour in the General Election – and had issued a slew of vituperative tweets about a wide variety of senior Labour figures. After suspending him at the urging of their own MPs, Labour’s NEC promptly reinstated Fisher to his post after a campaign from the Corbynite grassroots.
- Putting Ken Livingstone in charge of the defence policy review. Like his other appointments, this one came with initial and ongoing presentational difficulties. Red Ken is, well, Red Ken. Over the last few weeks he has stuffed more feet into his mouth than a millipede with a craving for shoe leather. But again that is only the surface issue – even more serious is the impact on Labour’s internal politics. The appointment was a blunt and public humiliation for Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence Secretary – last week her sister even pointed to her in the Commons as the Prime Minister raised the embarrassing issue of Livingstone’s new role.
- Flip-flopping on whether to allow a free vote on bombing ISIS in Syria. If you are in a weak position, it’s normally best not to publicly demonstrate it. With only a handful of committed Corbyn supporters among Labour MPs, it was a remarkable misjudgement to try to compel the Shadow Cabinet to agree to a whipped vote against military action against ISIS. Frontbenchers already frustrated by their leader’s poor judgement and irritated by his absurd comments on Jihadi John and the shoot-to-kill policy found themselves forced into another dispute with him. Suddenly, people who might be regretting the decision to take Opposition jobs were being pushed to the point of considering whether to resign from them.
Corbyn being wrong about almost everything – in the eyes of many of his colleagues, as well as his external opponents – is bad enough, but his incompetent leadership is an even more serious problem. With serious errors of leadership and management occurring at a rate of at least one a week, how long can this all last?