Shami Chakrabarti and Peter Whittle would probably furiously deny playing by the same political rules. But this morning on the Andrew Marr Show, the Labour peer and Ukip politician were both using suspiciously similar scripts to try to excuse poor performances by their party leaders in Thursday’s by-elections.
First up, Peter Whittle on how Paul Nuttall managed to squander a golden opportunity in Stoke Central. Nuttall was on a trip, of the kind that apparently often happens after a by-election, so he couldn’t explain for himself. Whittle referred to personal attacks on Nuttall. There were plenty of those in the campaign, but these were merely ones that involved uncovering the truth behind various claims the Ukip leader had made, from where he lived to whether he had lost close friends in the Hillsborough disaster. He did concede, however, that perhaps it had been a mistake for Nuttall to stand in the seat:
‘If there was one mistake we made it was that maybe Paul shouldn’t have run so early. I accept that, maybe, because he’s only been leader for 12 weeks.’
People needed to get to know Nuttall, he explained. Given how much emerged during the Stoke campaign, this does not bode particularly well. Whittle also implied that Ukip was still having an impact on national debate by forcing the parties to talk about controls on immigration, almost as though the party can survive better as a pressure group, albeit one that stands candidates in elections.
While Whittle was speaking, someone who seemed much happier when working in a pressure group than a party – Baroness Chakrabarti – was in the green room in Broadcasting House rehearsing her long list of all the people, things and nebulous concepts that needed blaming and correcting for the party losing Copeland. These included the Labour Party neglecting the seat, people having jobs in the nuclear industry, the weather, poor transport links, fewer Labour members travelling to the remote constituency than they did to Stoke, disunity in the PLP (though oddly this is always one-way, as presumably attacking Tony Blair and Lord Mandelson on the Marr Show would, in normal times, count as disunity), and the hostile media. Chakrabarti seemed particularly interested in the Marr Show’s booking schedule for guests, and returned to it later in the interview to complain that certain Labourites such as Rebecca Long-Bailey needed more airtime (Marr claimed Long-Bailey had in fact turned down interview bids).
What Chakrabarti omitted from her long list of blame was any suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn might, as Labour leader, have some responsibility too. While Stoke is more directly humiliating for Nuttall as he stood, the suggestion that the man leading the Labour Party wasn’t a factor at all is just laughable. Or it would be laughable were Corbyn not a factor in the demise of a once great party.