Thursday, 1 October 2015

Being in Opposition


It has been an eventful couple of weeks in Parliament with a new leader for the Labour Party and key votes to reform the welfare system and make Trade Unions more democratic. 

But the annual Party Conference season is now underway and next week Jeremy Corbyn will have to deliver his first party conference speech as leader of the Labour Party.  I was previously an adviser to two leaders of the opposition.  Firstly Michael Howard in the run up to the 2005 election and then David Cameron as he emerged from obscurity to become the leader of the Conservative Party.  

Being Leader of the Opposition is a gruelling task.  It is a big leap for any backbench MP to suddenly assume such a role.  You are under constant scrutiny from the media.  It is a struggle to get everyone in your own party singing from the same song sheet.  When things go wrong, people you thought were on your side turn on you.  If you don't get things right within the first few months, then perceptions about you start to set.  You are under constant pressure to react to everything in the news and just attack the Government which makes it hard to develop your own agenda.  You also have to get by with just a handful of key advisers who keep the show on the road and do not have access to all the resources that the Civil Service offer Government.  Jeremy Corbyn has all this to look forward to.

However, our system is designed to make being Leader of the Opposition difficult.  It should be a testing ground for would be Prime Ministers to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The job is tough but it gets no easier if you go on to be elected Prime Minister.  Those who think they can do the job need to be tested.  Being Leader of the Opposition either makes them or breaks them.  Time will tell what it does to Jeremy Corbyn, but it's been a bit of a shaky start.