Labour MPs and activists claim Jeremy Corbyn’s top team is “asleep at the wheel” and have “surrendered the pitch” to new prime minister Boris Johnson despite heightened speculation of a snap general election.
Insiders have expressed alarm to HuffPost UK over the leadership’s “lacklustre” response to a new Tory leader, adding “silence” from the shadow frontbench on key issues is a “total disgrace”.
Johnson, who refuses to rule out a no-deal Brexit, has embarked on a summer campaign packed with high-profile visits and near-daily policy announcements on key issues such as Brexit and law and order.
Labour activists, meanwhile, fear their party strategists do not have a so-called ‘summer grid’ of planned speeches and attack stories, with many shadow cabinet ministers are on annual leave.
Corbyn’s party has officially been on an election footing since Theresa May lost her majority in 2017, but insiders fume there is little evidence of the party on the offensive this summer.
Johnson meanwhile has been trumpeting a new policy nearly every day during well-publicised visits across the UK and his top aide, Dominic Cummings, has cancelled leave for special advisors as part of a major government shake-up.
Labour has also been pushing new policies, including a review into grouse shooting and on university admissions, but critics claim approach is “tame” and “piecemeal” in comparison to the Conservatives’ “full frontal assault”.
One staff member told HuffPost UK Corbyn’s advisors see little to gain from engaging in a “policy arms race” with Johnson, as the new PM was likely to dominate column inches while shadow ministers’ quotes would be “buried”.
It is thought the party could be saving attacks for its September conference in Brighton, by which time MPs hope Johnson will have lost a no-confidence vote in the Commons.
‘We’re just letting Boris Johnson get on with it’
But concern is also mounting that the Tories are also spending more than double the amount than Labour on Facebook ads.
According to the monitoring group Who Targets Me, the Conservative Party has spent around £80,000, while Labour spent over £30,000 in the past month (from July 13 to Aug 11).
Meanwhile, the Brexit Party spent a little under £10k (£9,708) and the Liberal Democrats spent almost £5k (£4,813).
One Labour MP told HuffPost UK many in the party are worried about losing the key early battles.
They said: “It looks like the opposition has just surrendered the pitch to Boris Johnson and the Tories.
“A new leader’s first 100 days is when they either define themselves or are defined by the opposition. Ed Miliband and Jeremy were defined by the opposition. We are just letting Boris Johnson get on with it. It’s crazy.”
Given Boris Johnson was a shoo-in you would have thought we would have a plan. We’ve been given no analysis of where he is strong and where he is weak. We don’t seem to have a summer grid, just a hotch-potch on things like grouse-shooting.Labour MP
One well-placed Labour insider claimed the party’s leadership does not see Johnson, widely viewed as a divisive figure, as a serious threat to Corbyn’s chances of winning power.
“They are overconfident, thinking he is easy to beat but I think they will be shocked to find out that he isn’t,” he said. “If he delivers Brexit – and it’s a big ‘if’ – he could easily take seats off us in the north and the Midlands. Boris Johnson is popular, even with some working-class voters.
“We should be leading on the front foot but instead we have become embroiled in a row over Scottish independence.
“I think Seumas Milne [Corbyn’s communications chief] and the leaders’ office is to blame, because ultimately they run the show. There is no clear programme. It is like they are asleep at the wheel.”
MPs are said to have been “appalled” at the party’s “weak” response to news that the economy had shrunk – key territory in any election campaign – for the first time since 2012 with no-one from the frontbench put up for interview on Channel 4 News.
Today new official figures showed the UK economy shrunk for the first time since 2012. The pound has fallen to new lows. The Chancellor says he doesn't expect recession and doesn't fear No Deal. We invited Labour to comment on C4News tonight. They said nobody could.— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) August 9, 2019
“It was a total disgrace,” the MP added. “The silence of the shadow frontbench really matters.
“Given Boris Johnson was a shoo-in you would have thought we would have a plan. We’ve been given no analysis of where he is strong and where he is weak. We don’t seem to have a summer grid, just a hotch-potch on things like grouse-shooting.”
One shadow minister hinted the party was preparing for a big policy switch to fully backing remain and that campaigning would then pick up.
Unions have been meeting to thrash out agreed positions on issues like energy and climate change in lieu of a new Labour manifesto.
“We tend to do our business separately to get our collective policy priorities establishes, but I am surprised we have not had more direct contact with party policy people,” one union chief said.
What's more disappointing?— Michael Chessum (@michael_chessum) August 14, 2019
The inability of the British left to throw itself into an unequivocal fight against the rise of right wing nationalism and anti-migrant politics, or August?
One activist based in the north said individual MPs had begun leafleting households regularly as they were panicking about the prospect of an election.
“It’s like every man and woman for him and herself, but I don’t think they are getting much help from the party centrally,” she said.
Another insider said August was not the time to “have a big fight with a new prime minister who can easily dominate the news cycle”, but added: “What is concerning people is that, while there aren’t big press releases or speeches, there isn’t the usual drum beat of consultations, ideas and briefings either.
“It seems everything is on lockdown. Nobody can work out why and it is freaking people out.
“Facebook spend is very, very low while you are seeing Tory ads everywhere – and it is like Lynton Crosby [the election guru who secured victory for David Cameron] says ‘you don’t fatten a pig on market day’.
“My guess is that people like Karie Murphy and Andrew Murray don’t know what to do and there is a complete bottleneck.
“The biggest worry of all is that they have created this culture of fear, and we now have a situation where nobody can talk about the looming problem and as a result we won’t be able to solve it in time.”
Instead of fighting on all cylinders to wipe out this arrogant, damaging, extreme government, the party machinery is being used to fight factional internal battlesNeil Coyle, Labour MP
While HuffPost UK spoke to a number of MPs and activists and found concern about the leadership’s response to Johnson to be widespread, few were willing to go on record.
Neil Coyle, Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, however, said factional wars were damaging the party.
“Instead of fighting on all cylinders to wipe out this arrogant, damaging, extreme government, the party machinery is being used to fight factional internal battles,” he said.
“My constituents need and deserve a Labour government and we should be uniting to battle Brexit. Instead, selection processes are wasting critical time and crucial party resources.
“The Corbyn clique continue to reveal their real battle is for the party and not the people or to be in government. It’s sickening.”
When asked about the issue, Labour issued a quote from a spokesman.
It reads: “Labour is ready for a general election whenever it comes and our members and supporters are campaigning right across the country to rebuild Britain for the many not the few.”