Not many Pagefield breakfast sessions begin with a quote from Lenin, but in light of recent events Philip Collins citing that “there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” felt particularly apt.
Days after Brexit and its continuing aftershocks, we were fortunate enough to pin down Philip Collins, columnist at The Times and former speechwriter to Tony Blair to make sense of it all. Here are five things we learned (and could print).
Naturally we started with the Labour party, which Collins conceded was in the “weakest position it has been in a long time – worse than it was in the 80s.” When pressed on the prospect of a new party emerging, he said while looking increasingly probable, it would be a ‘messy, splintered fracture’.
“There are many reasons why it would be better to recapture the Labour party, but also many reasons why that’s unlikely to happen,” Collins said. “A lot of time, thought and money are being put into the possibility of a new party.” This new pro-European, centre left party could absorb the Liberal Democrat talent left behind after the Coalition Government and even, potentially, some of the Cameroons homeless after Brexit, he added.
Collins made clear that his ideal outcome would be for Corbyn to resign. Failing that, in the event of a leadership contest he considered the potential front runners. Angela Eagle, Yvette Cooper or Dan Jarvis could be a good caretaker leader, but he questioned whether any of them could unite the country or stand any chance of being PM. And the question of David Miliband’s return still lingers.
While he warned against the temptation to think that “our prince overseas is perfect – he isn’t,” Collins conceded that “he’s magnificently better than anyone else at the moment – it would be like the grown-up has finally come home to clear up the kids’ party.” To lure Miliband back from his role at International Rescue Committee and potential involvement in the Hilary Clinton campaign, however, he would want to be certain that a leadership position is waiting for him – and as we know all too well from recent events, there’s no such thing as a sure thing in politics.
Saying it would be a ‘parliamentary outrage’ if there was not another General Election once the leadership issue is settled in the Tory party, Collins warned us not to believe candidates when they say they won’t call one. “All candidates are currently ruling out a General Election, but this is just to appease their colleagues sitting in marginal seats,” he said. “Whoever the incoming leader is will inherit a broken party, a small majority and a difficult negotiation with the EU ahead – calling a General Election and potentially winning a bigger majority of seats could be in their best interest, especially with Labour in its current state.”
Turning to the leadership frontrunners, Collins concluded that he had never thought he would see the day that he wanted Theresa May to be Prime Minister, citing Andrea Leadsom as a ‘reckless option’. “Appointing an inexperienced leader with no notion of what she wants to do at a time like this would be hugely irresponsible,” he noted. Questioned about whether Gove could become leader, he was sceptical. “He’s behaved preposterously, which is a shame as he was one of the few people in government who did things.”
Addressing what will happen next in the barely-just-begun Brexit saga, Collins forecast that while we would leave the EU – “the political punishment if we didn’t would be too severe” – complications arising over the coming months may mean we only ‘half leave’. “In 10 years we may look back and think ‘why did we do all that?’ Our renegotiations with the EU could result in a very similar situation to the one we left.”
Unusually for a political columnist, Collins complained that politics has become ‘too interesting’ – good for copy but not for the country. “We need stable, moderate politics,” he insisted, citing the dangers of politics becoming overly ‘romantic’. “Passion politics leads people to do peculiar things, like getting rid of a perfectly good PM,” he noted.
…But don’t despair; there are more important things than politics
Asked how he could stay so positive in light of the Labour party’s painful, public demise, Collins took a philosophical view. “Unlike most people working in politics, I don’t believe that it matters as much as we think it does. The vast majority of people will do tomorrow what they did yesterday. In many ways the march of technology has more of an impact on us than politics does.”