ANALYSIS: How Jeremy Corbyn gave Theresa May a lesson on firm leadership

Posted On: 
12th January 2018

What a difference a year makes.

The tables have turned for Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May in the past year.
PA Images

Twelve months ago, Theresa May appeared unassailable. YouGov's first poll of 2017 put support for the Conservatives on 42%, with Labour barely visible in the Tories' rear view mirror on 25%.

The good news for the Prime Minister is that backing for her party is virtually unchanged on 40%. But against all the odds, and defying the predictions of just about every political commentator, Labour now stands at 41%.

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Of course, in the intervening year we have had a snap general election in which the Prime Minister contrived to lose her Commons majority, and Jeremy Corbyn inspired a generation of young people and the previously apathetic to rally to his red flag.

Nevertheless, Theresa May remains the resident of 10 Downing Street and is likely to stay there at least until Britain leaves the EU in spring next year.

Less than two weeks into 2018, however, and she continues to look as if she is in office without really being in power.

Last weekend, she responded to the furore surrounding Toby Young's historic tweets by insisting that if he transgressed one more time, he would lose his place on the board of the new Office for Students. A day later, Young took matters into his own hands and resigned.

On Monday, May's big New Year reshuffle was thrown off course when not one, but two Cabinet ministers simply refused to do what she wanted them to. That resulted in Jeremy Hunt remaining Health Secretary, and Justine Greening quitting the Government entirely rather than be put in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions.

Capping it all off, Boris Johnson went into freelance mode this morning after Donald Trump announced he would no longer be visiting Britain to open the new US embassy building in south London.

The official Downing Street line was that the trip - during which he was due to visit Number 10 - had never been officially confirmed, so there was nothing to see here.

Without informing Downing Street - and slap bang in the middle of the daily briefing of political journalists by the Prime Minister's spokesman - the Foreign Secretary took to Twitter to denounce Jeremy Corbyn and "puffed-up pompous popinjay" Sadiq Khan for whipping up an anti-Trump mob.

Having initially been caught off guard, a source close to May finally confirmed that Johnson had indeed been speaking for HM Government "in his own inimitable way".

Contrast those tribulations with the actions of Jeremy Corbyn, who yesterday presented his close ally Chris Williamson with a mafia-style offer he could not refuse after he suggested council tax be doubled on high-value homes: quit as shadow fire minister, go to the backbenches and behave yourself. No fuss, no drama. It was clinical, decisive and effective leadership. So much so, that Williamson appeared on TV today to declare that Corbyn is the best leader his party has ever had. It will be a long time before you hear Boris Johnson say that about Theresa May.

All this matters because it feeds into the narrative that the Prime Minister is effectively a hostage to her Cabinet - and saps the morale of Tory MPs.

Much of their ire is currently being directed at Gavin Barwell, the former minister who lost his seat at the election only to be thrown a lifeline days later when he was appointed May's new chief of staff.

One MP told PoliticsHome: "He's a boy in a man's world. MPs are fed up with him and think he's become arrogant and aloof. Some of us are really unhappy."

Another senior figure in the Conservative ranks said: "The problem is she knows no one and becomes utterly dependent on these courtiers - who are not very good."

To steal a slogan from another Prime Minister in another political era, for Theresa May things can only get better.