James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Some have suggested that the task of pulling out of the EU and the pivot to a more global role is the biggest challenge since the Second World War. The longer time goes on, and new major challenges are thrown up, the more this seems like a reasonable statement.
But imagine how much more difficult the Government’s job would be with a competent Labour Party. For what Corbyn’s non-existent opposition brings is masses and masses of extra time – a luxury in politics, that can rarely be expected.
Not only does the Government know that Corbyn’s team is unable to create a clear and compelling alternative to the approach Theresa May is setting out, they can usually expect little serious scrutiny on an issue-by-issue basis. While the odd Shadow Minister might raise the occasional inconvenient question, for the most part Ministers can expect a reasonably smooth ride, assuming basic competence on their own part.
In politics, everything usually takes place at huge speed. Politicians must deal with the often-unrealistic demands of the public and the permanently-unrealistic demands of the media; they must also deal with their own party’s mistakes and with the perpetual motion of domestic and world affairs.
While the best opposition parties – like Tony Blair’s before 1997 – almost become the authentic voice of power, even half-competent opposition parties offer a running commentary on the failures of Government. All this helps to radically reduce the time available to politicians.
Government politicians and their advisers are now able to spend nearly all their time on their actual executive job and planning for major decisions that must be taken in the future. If a serious figure were leading Labour these ministers and advisers would all be spending hours and hours each week constructing hard-edged communications campaigns, putting out rebuttals and engaging in practice for high-stakes Parliamentary events.
To be fair, it’s not just Corbyn’s incompetence that provides this additional time. The Lib Dems continue to be irrelevant and UKIP are once again proving to be their own worst enemies. But the primary reason for the Government’s additional time allowance undeniably comes from Corbyn.
Generally speaking, a lack of opposition is a bad thing. Less scrutiny and public debate can mean that worse decisions get made. But the brutal climate of Westminster politics is hardly the perfect environment for policy making either. We should hope that the Government uses all its time to the best effect.