Labour braced for local polls with PM 37% ahead of Corbyn

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Are the leadership figures in the Labour Party – and the rank and file as well – quaking in their boots at the prospect of the forthcoming local government elections on May 4?

It has become the norm on these occasions in the past that the party in Government at Westminster always fares badly, while the Opposition picks up seats right across the map.

But all that could well go by the board this time, with politics in Britain in such a crazy, topsy-turvy state. The Labour Party is in such a shambles, that they could be losing seats on May 4, left, right and centre rather than winning ground.

Even the party leadership appears to be locked in its own private civil war.

The leader Jeremy Corbyn does his best, although not usually very effectively, at Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons, but he is not helped by the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party who do not like him as leader and who, pitifully, offer him little or no vocal encouragement.

The elections are taking place in England, Scotland and Wales with 4,851 council seats up for grabs. The contests for six new metro mayors in England are also being held on that day, as is the by-election in the Labour-held seat of Manchester, Gorton.

Labour’s morale - if such a thing still exists - has also been done no favours by the latest opinion poll which shows that Theresa May is leading Corbyn by a massive 37 points. This lead outstrips the 16-point lead Margaret Thatcher had over Michael Foot at the 1983 general election in which she won a 100-seat Commons majority.

Political parties often scoff at opinion poll findings, saying that what really matters is the poll on the day. If they are so scornful, why do they hold so many private opinion polls which they do not publicise?

Labour need to brace themselves for possible trouble ahead.

We are constantly being told the fabric of the Palace of Westminster is in dire straits and that the job to save this building will be massive, running into billions of pounds. It will not be resolved by a few bits of sticking plaster every so often.

This means – although some people question this – that everyone will have to be taken out of the Palace for a few years to make it possible for the construction workers to get on with their task unhindered.

And moving some 2,000 people, plus all the goods and chattels, into temporary accommodation will be a mammoth task, more complex than any military manoeuvre. As I say, we are hearing all this alarmist talk. Yet, what is being done? On the face of it, very little.

They had better get a move on, otherwise MPs will one day return from their holidays to find the place no more than a massive mountain of rubble.

Is the House of Commons about to be plunged into yet another scandal along the lines of, although perhaps not so grave as, the expenses scandal of 2009?

It relates to MPs’ behaviour which is said to “lag behind” the standards expected in other workplaces. This problem is made worse by the apparent fact that MPs are reluctant to act against their own colleagues, and are certainly unwilling to punish them too harshly, or in some cases, apparently, at all.

This is the kind of charge which has been laid at the door of the committee whose duty it is supposed to be to hold erring MPs to account.

It has been said that the committee tends to focus on MPs’ finances and, according to one retiring committee lay person, Sharon Darcy, “misses wider questions of conflicts of interest”.

Some of these allegations have been levelled even at some members of this committee itself, who have been told they, of all people, should be “whiter than white”, which is apparently far from the case.

For heaven ‘s sake, the House of Commons should sort this out without delay. MPs have a bad enough reputation as it is, and any system like this that tempts the weak-willed (and there are plenty of those) into acts of corruption, whether big or small, should be stamped on ruthlessly.

I see the Queen has been more successful in feeding a banana to an elephant than was the late Denis Thatcher, husband of the former Prime Minister, when he tried to do the same thing in Sri Lanka.

I watched fascinated as Denis attempted to insert his bunch of bananas in the wrong orifice of the perplexed Jumbo.

I shall not readily forget an Easter Day a few years ago involving the then Prime Minister James Callaghan. He was known as “Sunny Jim” but was more often thunderous than sunny.

On this bright Easter Day morning we were “camped out” outside Number 10, waiting for Callaghan to emerge. One of the television companies had laid a cable right across the front door, to halt the PM in his tracks so they could get better pictures.

Eventually, Callaghan, all smiles, emerged. “Happy Easter, everyone,” he said. Then he produced some fearsome looking shears from behind his back, adding: “If you don’t move that bloody cable, I will slice it in two.”

I have never seen a TV crew move faster in their haste to oblige the Prime Minister - and rescue their cable.

I recall another Easter occasion when I attended a lunch at which that great trencherman Roy (now Lord) Hattersley, then deputy leader of the Labour Party, was guest of honour.

He was asked what his principal ambitions were. He replied: “I have two great ambitions: to be Home Secretary and to open the batting for Yorkshire.”

A voice piped up from the back of the room: “Better get your pads on then...”

Inexplicably, Hattersley was the only person in the room who did not find this amusing.