Brace yourself for a shocking revelation, readers. Jeremy Corbyn wants power.
That’s what he wants more than anything else. Oh yes, perhaps for the pursuit of high principle, or to enact what he believes will serve “the many”, or the wreak a terrible vengeance on the dastardly “few”, or all of the above, or a host of other reasons. But step one to any and every plan he has first involves the keys to Downing Street.
That’s not unreasonable. For most politicians, or at least party leaders, it would be a given that getting into power is the name of the game. But it’s worth remembering that this applies even to a man who generally purports to be different from the rest.
Acknowledging that fact helps to illuminate what might otherwise appear confusing or even senseless positions that the Labour Party holds.
On Brexit, in particular, what the Government mocks as a lack of a plan – and what his internal critics attack as an ignorant abdication of responsibility – is not the result of confusion but of deliberate strategy. Corbyn himself may well not be the brains behind the position, but his Party’s approach of constructive ambiguity is proving an effective tool to edge gradually closer to winning the prize of power.
In his latest speech, delivered today, he effectively resorted to just repeating his ultimate goal out loud. He wants an election. Theresa May should call an election. The country needs an election. The answer to Brexit is an election.
Of course there was a sop in there to his pro-EU critics – “if a general election cannot be secured then we will keep all options on the table, including the option of campaigning for a public vote” – but it was only a nod in their direction, with the primary function of providing a bit of cover next time they complain. If Corbyn does back a second referendum, I’d bet it will only be when it is too late to actually hold one.
Why, really, would he agree to change his policy of studied inactivity at all, particularly at this stage? Sitting on his hands, while saying he wants a) power, and b) power, and c) power so he could do things better than the evil Tories is paying off for him nicely.
Intervening in any direction – to sink Brexit, to dictate the format of a deal or forbid some outcomes, to accept an agreement, to hold a second referendum, or to resolve the Parliamentary stand-off in any way – would run the risk of curtailing the Government’s woes. That’s the last thing he wants.
Far better to float serenely off shore, reminding people that you oppose austerity and generally believe you would do a better job of governing, for as long as possible while Theresa May slips deeper into the mire. Hence his battle even to avoid holding a vote of no confidence in the Government until he absolutely has to; he wagers that the later it takes place, the more trouble the Conservatives will be in, and the more chance he has of winning.
This is the reason why Labour’s Remainers are tearing their hair out: they believe the country is on a tight timetable in which Labour must stop Brexit, after which it will be too late, but Corbyn evidently feels no such urgency. If anything, he feels the opposite – he might put his support behind measures that will prolong the situation, but he is unlikely to ride in and resolve anything.
One elegantly phrased image in today’s speech saw Corbyn cast himself as the man to unite Leave and Remain voters:
‘…if you’re living in Tottenham you may well have voted to Remain.
You’ve got high bills rising debts. You’re in insecure work. You struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on universal credit, and forced to access food banks.
You’re up against it.
If you’re living in Mansfield, you are more likely to have voted to Leave.
You’ve got high bills, rising debts, you’re in insecure work, you struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on universal credit and forced to access food banks.
You’re up against it.
But you’re not against each other.’
It’s an effective image, which gives an essential insight into his thinking. Implicit within it is that Brexit is simply not the biggest issue around as far as the Labour leader is concerned. From a Remainer MP’s perspective, that is a serious threat: Labour’s priority is not Brexit but austerity, and the Leader of the Opposition appears quite happy for the former to continue if it means the chance to do something about the latter.
So what does Corbyn think about Brexit? Why thank you for asking such an important and pressing question. He’d like an election, please. And then power.