Greig Baker is Chief Executive of The GUIDE Consultancy, a political intelligence agency in London. Greig lives in Canterbury, where he was the Association Chairman and previously served with the British Army’s Military Intelligence Corps.
The weather in December might not be much to write home about, but last week I was pulled into a proper whirlwind of the General Election. The essential lesson I take from it is that Conservatives must keep preparing for the next storm.
I have volunteered as a local Conservative activist for years, but on 10th December I was put into the national spotlight for a moment. A recording of Jon Ashworth, the Labour MP, showed him implying that “the Civil Service machine” would “pretty quickly move to safeguard security” if Jeremy Corbyn was elected. Jon told the media that he was speaking to me on the call, and that he was just trying to address my fears about Corbyn with some “banter”.
Of course, there’s no reassurance to be found in the idea that a man like Corbyn was only one step away from becoming Prime Minister. And none in the idea that there were such serious concerns about him that his closest Labour colleagues were relying on officials to act unconstitutionally to try to keep him away from the levers of state.
Neither was there much comfort from the thousands of angry Labour supporters who sent me threatening messages, nor from seeing local Labour activists post my address online so that I had to move my young family out of our home to keep them safe.
Regardless of any of that, on a personal level, my biggest sadness was to lose a pal as Jon responded to the recording.
But I still think the public needed to know what goes on inside Labour and that it was right for Guido Fawkes to break the story in the way he did – emphasising the national security issue, rather than any narrow party political point – and that he did a public service in doing so. Here’s why.
I have known Jon for more than a decade, and I spent the past three years imploring him to be honest with people about Corbyn. It is one thing to back your leader out of party loyalty but it is quite another to propose a man as Prime Minister while harbouring serious concerns about him. If you have a security concern, I think the right thing to do is tell people about it – not keep quiet about it, or, worse, support the person in question for high office.
A week on, I still find the single most disconcerting thing about the whole experience is that supposedly ‘moderate’ Labour candidates knew exactly how troubling Corbyn is, but they were still campaigning to put him into Downing Street. They were not only doing nothing to stop Corbyn – these ambitious Labour wannabe MPs were touring the country, trying to make Corbyn Prime Minister and boost their own careers by clinging onto his jackbootstraps.
And now, in the aftermath of the general election, I fear the same fundamental lack of principle is apparent in Labour MPs who are so readily discarding Corbyn after trying to elect him to office just a few days ago. It cannot be repeated enough that every single Labour candidate campaigned to make Corbyn Prime Minister, however much they pretend otherwise now that their political calculations have changed.
So when you see a Labour MP making their pitch to lead the rump of their party, it’s worth wondering what they are failing to tell us now, what they were failing to tell us before, or if they have simply got so addicted to politics as a pastime that they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong. There is a responsibility to remind people that the next Labour leader, whoever it is, was willing to disregard serious concerns to elect Corbyn, and that they are capable of putting their political ambition above any sense of doing what even they know is right.
In the days since the Ashworth story broke, I have been really touched by the kind and thoughtful messages I have received from friends and colleagues. One in particular stands out. It reads: “It is worth remembering that approximately 90 per cent of the Jewish community are genuinely scared of the prospect of a Corbyn-led government – me included”. When you see words like that, it makes the brickbats from Labour activists just bounce off.
The political weather got worse in the three years after 2016 because campaigners thought victory in one vote resolved the issue. That was clearly not the case and it should provide a salutary lesson for Conservatives now.
After my brush with a bullying Labour Party that wanted to get Corbyn into office despite its own better judgement – and regardless of the national cost – I felt an enormous sense of relief when the exit poll came through last week. But Conservatives have to remember that this election is not ‘job done’. Conservatives have to keep campaigning. Doing that is the only way to make sure sunshine still wins the day.