Dr Sarah Ingham is a former Deputy Chairman of Chelsea and Fulham Conservative Association. She is currently working on a project about the British Army since 1945.
Hearing about expressions of sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn from a Hilton sounded so bonkers that many must have assumed that they came from Paris, rather than her namesake, Steve.
But the former Cameron consigliere and champion of the Big Society is on to something. The election of Britain’s very own Bernie Sanders as Labour’s leader last September was far from the disaster that many Conservative MPs and activists persist in crowing about.
Thanks to the introduction of fixed term five-year Parliaments – a measure, unless repealed, whose idiocy will be only be apparent to Conservative MPs on Day One of Opposition – the Labour Party has found itself with plenty of time on its hands. Anyone who remembers the Conservative Party general elections defeats of 2001 and 2005 knows that it can take a long time to re-group, re-think and rebuild morale – let alone a war chest.
In a Guardian interview, Hilton identified “the very bullying ganging-up by the political establishment” on Corbyn. Ganging-up implies some sort of concerted effort, which is doubtful, but the term “bullying” rings all too true. Alas, that bullying approach and tone too often emanates from the Government side of the Commons.
It seems not to have occurred to most Tory MPs – and indeed to his Labour detractors – that the public might view Jeremy Corbyn as a rather welcome change. Unspun and homespun, he’s genuine. Do voters really object to his quiet courtesy or to his allotment? Do they mind that he doesn’t patronise them by pretending to like celebrity culture and football? Do they dislike the fact he doesn’t pander to the press?
Instinctively on the side of the underdog, the fair-minded British public dislike are braying bullies. It does the Conservative cause no favours in the long-term when Corbyn’s Conservative opponents play the man and not the ball. The term ‘nasty party’ should be a source of shame, not a badge of honour.
The public really do not give much of a monkeys that Corbyn is not Prime Ministerial, because they have figured out that he is probably never going to be Prime Minister. Many Opposition leaders are little more than caretakers, as William Hague, Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard could testify.
Come 2020, Corbyn will probably have long thrown in the towel as Labour leader – so what he wears, what he sings and whether he kneels will be pretty immaterial. At minimum, Jeremy Corbyn represents a decisive break from the stale, discredited Blair-Brown era. By contrast, Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper represented more of the same-old, same-old.
It is doubtful whether the other leadership contenders would have engaged and enthused tens of thousands of people – or inspired their very own political Praetorian Guard. The Momentum movement is said to number about 100,000 activists, while in the last 12 months the Labour Party’s membership has doubled to almost 400,000.
Can the Tory Party claim that it had a similar surge in grassroots support during a first year in Opposition? Or even in Government? Why not? Maybe, just maybe, Conservatives have something to learn from the current leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.