Barely one year into a newly elected Conservative government, people are asking how much longer it can stagger on. Last month’s budget unravelled within hours of being announced, as Duncan Smith walked out of the Cabinet and long-standing party members left in disgust at disability benefit cuts. Since then Tory backbenchers have been queuing up to criticise the government’s policy of total academisation of our schools and its complete passivity at the destruction of our steel industry.
In the House of Lords, defeat after defeat has been inflicted on the Tories. On the Trade Union Bill, the government caved in on the issue of ending the payroll collection of union subs. The Upper House is also butchering the Housing Bill, voting down ‘pay to stay’ rent hikes, provisions that would force councils to build ‘starter homes’ and a dozen other features of the bill which peers oppose.
There have been other U-turns and defeats for the government, on supported housing benefit, child poverty indicators and Sunday trading. Overwhelmingly, these have been the result of pressure piled on by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the support his agenda enjoys in the wider public. Nearly two thirds of voters want the steel industry renationalised and opposition to Tory academisation plans is even more widespread. And does anyone believe that if Labour had its usual default right wing leader, the Tories would have felt anything like the level of pressure over Osborne’s disability cuts? These Tory retreats are directly related to the political leadership Jeremy Corbyn is providing and the way the issues he champions chime with voters.
On the EU referendum, the Tories are tearing themselves apart, ratcheting up the rhetoric to bizarre levels. Meanwhile, their line that the last six years of austerity were economically necessary has been exposed as a fraud by the Panama Papers. Tax avoidance on an industrial scale to the tune of $21 trillion worldwide demonstrates that we are very much not ‘all in this together’.
The scurrilous campaigning methods used by the Tories in the London mayoral election and their shameless attempts to shore up traditional pockets of support – such as the generous financial settlements for the shire counties in contrast to those for urban Labour-voting areas – reek of desperation. With its thin majority and internal schisms, this is a weak government reminiscent of the dying embers of John Major’s reign 20 years ago.
For Labour, this presents a tremendous opportunity. At this rate, the government may not last the full five years and we have to be ready. There are huge areas of the UK to which the Corbyn agenda needs to be carried, not least Scotland, where the SNP has in many places taken the Labour vote. In the context of the challenging tasks ahead for our party, chatter about leadership challenges is self-indulgent and treacherous. Jeremy Corbyn has a huge mandate from party members and supporters, and party officials and representatives at all levels need to focus on removing the Tories from power. The opportunity may come sooner than you think!