Opposing May’s Coalition of Crankery, Corbyn Can Show He is a Prime Minister-in-Waiting
With Conservative infighting returning to the nadir of the 1990s, George Osborne has called Theresa May a “dead woman walking”. The Prime Minister’s political career is a husk. Her credibility, authority and reputation lie in ruins.
Now Northern Ireland’s hard-right Democratic Unionist Party holds the balance of power in the House of Commons, a prospect that should horrify nominally liberal Britain.
Founded by Protestant fundamentalist Ian Paisley, the DUP stands for extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBT policies consistent with his prejudices.
They are tied to the anti-Catholic Orange Order and their leader, Arlene Foster, has even maintained links with the Ulster Defence Association - a proscribed terrorist organisation.
Sinn Fein and the Irish government have warned that the peace maintained by the Good Friday Agreement could be eroded by May’s DUP pact, as it potentially violates the convention of impartiality from Westminster.
In an obvious irony, it is the Tories who preside over a “coalition of chaos” with links to extremism.
Clever parliamentary tactics could split the Tories from their new partners
If the Tory-DUP alliance fails, a vote of no-confidence could see Jeremy Corbyn become the prime minister of a minority Labour government - with policies backed by a “progressive alliance” of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
And even if May clings onto power, she leads a severely weakened government with a wafer thin Commons majority dependent on the DUP to pass legislation. So Corbyn must take the initiative not just to stand up to May as a vindicated opposition leader, but to prove himself as a prime minister-in-waiting.
A starting point is Labour’s plans for an “Alternative Queen’s Speech”, laying out the party’s own plans for government. But from opposition, it can take advantage of its strengthened hand to change government policy by tabling legislative amendments that a majority in the Commons could vote for.
Another point of contention between the DUP and the Tories that Labour can exploit for good is benefits policy: the DUP are opposed to the bedroom tax, a cruel and unpopular policy targeting social housing tenants and adversely impacting disabled people. With the Lib Dems and SNP, Labour has the numbers to get rid of it, establishing themselves as a safeguard for the vulnerable.
The DUP also back the triple-lock on state pensions and keeping the winter fuel allowance for all pensioners, which the Tories might want to commit to after the campaign disaster of the dementia tax. On UK matters, the government’s tight majority means that every vote matters. Clever parliamentary tactics could split the Tories from their new partners to defeat the government.
The Tories have tried to pitch themselves as friends of the "just about managing”, so Labour could challenge them to support measures - whether it be to freeze VAT or increase the carer's allowance - that help those at the bottom.
The general election was not just a triumph for anti-austerity politics, but for pro-European politics. Labour won big in Remain-voting seats and UKIP’s vote evaporated. The Tories won the most votes, but Labour and pro-European parties won more combined.
As the Great Repeal Bill comes before Parliament, Labour must press for EU regulations protecting workers’ rights and the environment to be retained and for continued participation in the European Convention on Human Rights. They should oppose attempts by the Tories to let these rights be taken away behind closed doors by the executive, rather than debated in Parliament - where the Tories are a minority.
Labour has every reason to lead from opposition
Since the election both Corbyn and John McDonnell have said that Labour’s policy is to leave the Single Market; their manifesto also indicated intentions to leave the Customs Union. In this, they are in alliance with the Tories but not many of their own voters. They would be wise to change tact.
The DUP - whose constituents depend on a soft border with the Republic of Ireland - and indeed many Tory MPs (particularly Remainers) would be likely to support this. It would also build Labour’s diplomacy with the SNP and Lib Dems.
Labour has to be honest about immigration. Free movement is indivisible from the Single Market, the UK economy and public services like the NHS depend on it, and it is of huge benefit to thousands of UK citizens working and living in the EU.
The Tories have threatened to use EU nationals in the UK as bargaining chips while committing to arbitrary and unachievable migration caps. Labour can commit to protecting migrants’ rights as well as preventing their exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
Through cross-party cooperation and setting the agenda in opposition to an irreparably damaged prime minister, Labour will have an ample opportunity to present themselves as a credible party of government.
Corbyn could bring MPs from the wider Parliamentary Labour Party onto his frontbench. Talented backbenchers like Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn might have opposed Corbyn previously. So long they can get behind his leadership, they would be useful to him as he opposes the Tory agenda.
Labour has every reason to lead from opposition - especially against a Tory administration appallingly, and irresponsibly, joined up with the DUP.
It is now possible that the next general election will result in Prime Minister Corbyn. But with the Tory position so fragile, he may find the opportunity comes sooner than that.
About the author
Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.
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