After 28 years of frontline politics, Harriet Harman will move to the backbenches after a final appearance at the Despatch Box. In a civil round of Prime Minister’s Questions, she used all six questions on the refugee crisis. In response the Prime Minister was courteous, commending Harman for her service and suggesting that he “agreed with everything” she had said.
For Harman, a figure of fun for the Tories, this will have been bittersweet. As stand-in leader for a second time she performed admirably, though her legacy has been tarnished by the decision to abstain on the Welfare Bill.
David Cameron’s conciliatory attitude illustrates the mood in the House. While Labour MPs are ready to go into hiding, the Tories are saving their ammunition for next week’s bout with Labour’s new leader.
Purdah defeat hints at Tory vulnerability
While the thought of a Corbyn-led opposition has delighted Tories, the party would do well not to lose sight of their majority. On Monday, David Cameron faced his first defeat since the election as 37 Tory MPs defied the whip and voted against amendment 53 to the EU Referendum Bill.
Members of the perennial awkward squad like Sir Bill Cash were present among the rebels, but so too were five ex-Cabinet Ministers: Liam Fox, Owen Paterson, Cheryl Gillan, John Redwood and David Jones, and chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady.
A challenge for David Cameron is reconciling two competing impulses. Some will see Labour’s tilt left as an opportunity to fight on a more strident Conservative platform. However, if the opposition cede the center ground, the Tories could occupy it, ‘guaranteeing’ electoral success in 2020 and beyond. With issues like the European referendum ahead, Conservative high command would do well not to lose sight of their own vulnerabilities.
Ashcroft on Labour loyalists and defectors
On Thursday Lord Ashcroft published ‘Project Red Dawn’, his analysis of how the views of Labour loyalists compare with defectors who have moved away from the party. The majority of defectors said Ed Miliband helped push them to another party, while 63% of Conservative-switchers suggested Labour’s economic profligacy had influenced their decision. Four in five defectors also considered welfare spending to be too generous, but only 31% of Labour loyalists agreed with this view.
Ashcroft’s findings on Tony Blair were particularly interesting. Although maligned, Blair is considered Labour’s best leader of the past thirty years among defectors to the Conservatives (57%) and loyalists (42%).
Why some within Labour still discuss whether Blair was really a success can be a mystery to outsiders. He is the only leader to win an election in the age of colour television and broaden Labour’s appeal beyond the industrial heartlands. Ashcroft’s findings validate John Cruddas’ calls to “rehabilitate” the Blair legacy and suggest that while the kind of platform offered by Corbyn may win over young activists, it is unlikely to gain traction across the electorate.