relaunch party

Theresa May's attempt to relaunch her party with the Taylor Review fell flat

The differing fortunes of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn become more marked by the day. The Prime Minister, so sure of her position three months ago, is hanging to office by a thread. The leader of the Opposition, meanwhile, has gone from no-hoper to PM-in-waiting as he embarks on a summer of campaigning ahead of a possible general election, whenever it might come.

Ms May’s weakness isn’t exactly easy to hide. But by calling on opposition parties this week to contribute ideas and cooperate on parliamentary business, the Prime Minister simply underscored the depths of her vulnerability. Worse still, she demonstrated once again her capacity for hypocrisy – having acted in the narrow interests of the Conservative Party for the whole of her premiership calls for cross-party collaboration now ring hollow.

An attempt to relaunch her policy agenda on the back of the Taylor Report into the gig economy fell flat, not least because Ms May was unable to offer any promises about turning Taylor’s recommendations – which were broadly worthy if hardly earth-shattering – into statute. With her personal leadership qualities under the microscope, a stumbling speech gave more ammunition to those in the Tory rank and file who believe a general election becomes more, not less likely, the longer Ms May is at the helm.

Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to spend the summer preparing the Labour Party for another snap poll indicates in part his belief that an election may indeed arrive at any minute. However, he knows too that the vast bulk of the Conservative Party is prepared to do almost anything to prevent that eventuality coming to pass.

As such, hitting the road and holding campaign meetings in marginal constituencies has a broader objective of maintaining the momentum Mr Corbyn gathered in the run up to last month’s election. While Ms May dithers behind closed doors over the brutal realities of Brexit, Labour’s leader and senior colleagues can make themselves seen and heard in public. The campaign trail is Mr Corbyn’s natural territory. If summer news bulletins become dominated by images of him addressing mass rallies, the pressure on the Prime Minister – who is so obviously ill at ease in such settings – may become irresistible.

With recent polls putting Labour eight points ahead of the Tories it is no wonder that Mr Corbyn and his allies want to press home their advantage. Engaging with supporters publicly also has the secondary benefit of keeping a lid on any doubts among Labour MPs. There are still a sizable number who are suspicious of their leader’s past and of his desire to shift the party to the left once and for all. June’s remarkable election result brought an end to their immediate plans for rebellion; a summer which sees Corbyn-mania growing ever stronger may quell opposition in the ranks for good.

One of the key lessons of the last election was the degree to which activists on the ground were able to mobilise the Labour vote. Some of the party’s MPs had so many supporters arriving in their constituencies to help that they simply did not know what to do with them. It is not a problem the Conservatives experienced. Jeremy Corbyn, by keeping his show – literally – on the road, has the opportunity to grow that grassroots activist base. The Tories, as things stand, have little idea how to respond – even putting aside the previously unanticipated weakness of their leader, the party’s local organisational structures cannot compete with Labour’s.

Ironically, the only party leader in recent times to have engaged as successfully as Jeremy Corbyn with massed gatherings on the campaign trail is Tony Blair, who in most other respects is Corbyn’s polar opposite. Some have said that Blair started to lose support when he began to believe the hype he himself had generated. It might be that the greatest danger to Jeremy Corbyn’s insurgent leadership of the party is the very same. If Corbyn can avoid creating a cult, he might end up in Downing Street.

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