Politics, eh? One minute you’re bemoaning how your party resembles a coma patient and you might as well pull the plug. The next, the patient is positively kicking the NHS blankets onto the floor and asking for a glass of water.
As a word of explanation, there now follows quite possibly the most boring sentence on the internet this year: the results of elections to the chairmanships of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) committees have been announced.
No, don’t click away! This is important. Each committee covers the remit of a Whitehall department, and the chair of each committee, in theory, at least, speaks for the PLP (note: not the front bench) on those subject areas.
PLP committees are an oft-overlooked institution, rarely meeting and never noticed – by Labour MPs, let alone the media.
That is about to change. Because for the first time, like, ever, a great deal of importance is being attached to these elections in which only Labour MPs can participate. And look at who’s been elected: Ian Austin at education, Tristram Hunt at Communities and Local Government, Caroline Flint at Energy and Climate Change, the heroic Mike Gapes at Foreign Affairs.
The list – and the pattern – goes on. The first thing to grab your attention is that almost every new committee chair is a staunch and high-profile critic of the new Corbynite regime. Sensible, sound chaps and chapettes, each one.
The second thing to notice is that the cast list is arguably more impressive than the current Shadow Cabinet, and indeed features some who refused to serve under Corbyn.
These election results are essentially a two-fingered salute by the PLP to its “leader”, Mr Corbyn, and his extremist allies. This is the PLP saying, “Okay, we screwed up by allowing Corbyn on the ballot paper back in July. Sorry about that. We won’t make the same mistake again.”
In normal peace time, these elections wouldn’t matter a damn. I was chair of the PLP Northern Ireland committee at one point and I don’t recall being called on to comment on the peace process at regular intervals. But these are not normal times. PLP committee chairs can now be expected to have wildly differing views from their Shadow Cabinet equivalents – or at least will have, as Corbyn uses his mandate to roll out whatever policy-making process he will inevitably use to stamp his authority upon policy.
And given the mandate (see, Jeremy? You’re not the only one!) now enjoyed by these individuals, the nation will understand that they speak with the authority of the whole PLP. Shadow Cabinet ministers, on the other hand, will speak only with the authority of one man.
On one hand, this unexpected sign of life in the patient is encouraging. It’s an indication that the PLP seems determined not to allow the party to go quietly into that dark night. On the other, it’s a tentative first step towards the civil war that was inevitable from the moment the leadership election result was announced.
This is the shelling of Fort Sumpter by Confederate troops. And Jeremy Corbyn is no Abe Lincoln.
This article was first published by the Daily Telegraph