Labour’s performance needs a theatre critic, says Roger Ratcliffe

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The next Labour prime minister is working as a volunteer at Bradford Food Bank while awaiting GCSE results.

Alternatively, he or she may be knocking up chicken and bacon melts at a Subway branch in Salford, having failed to turn their new university degree into a meaningful job, or is a recently qualified junior doctor slogging through 80-hour weeks at Hull Royal Infirmary.

The next Labour PM is currently not on any pundit’s radar, and will not be one of the two current challengers for the job. Anyone who is honest about the party’s dire position knows that only too well although, of course, the fiction has to be maintained in public that the party is choosing between two political Titans and Labour will triumph at the next election or the one after that. It’s not, and they won’t.

This is depressing for those who don’t live in the rarified atmosphere of constituency party meeting rooms and just want Labour to pull themselves together. Sadly, though, the tortured way the leadership election began, the absurd legal hoopla that followed and the fatigued course it is taking through the dog days of August make it obvious to me that party unity is unlikely to break out when the result is announced in September. The fault lines are wider and deeper than ever.

It was different a year ago, when Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership. Then, no one talked about party splits even though the word “unexpected” doesn’t begin to describe Corbyn’s victory, which wasn’t so much a landslide as a biblical earthquake.

#Corbynmania was the hashtag of 2015 almost as much as Labourcide has become the story of 2016. Last summer’s leadership candidates were Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s place on the ballot, by the way, was a humane act by MPs to give the party’s hard left someone to vote for. The most expected of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall was that they could eat a bacon sandwich more convincingly than Ed Miliband’s impression of a dog savaging a slipper.

Then, surprise surprise, Labour members said they’d had enough of media image. Wasn’t Blair all image and no substance? They wanted policies, proper socialist ones at that.

I was one of those who attended Corbyn rallies last summer and liked his laundry list for the next Labour government – things like renationalising the railways, curbing the power of Rupert Murdoch, regulating the banks, abolishing student fees and initiating a massive building programme to provide affordable homes. Corbyn had policies coming out of every orifice.

Regrettably, though, as far as his public image is concerned he soon made Miliband look like Daniel Craig. Add to that his abysmal performances in Parliament and his failure to inspire confidence in the vast majority of his MPs. Sadly his challenger Owen Smith, should he win, also doesn’t strike me as someone who could prevail in the beauty contest of a general election. That’s if Labour avoids a split and survives to fight another election in its current form. And if there is a split, we’re talking several general elections before Labour has another sniff of power.

With all this going on, we could forgive newspapers if they took Labour coverage away from political correspondents and handed it to theatre critics.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter 


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