Move over, Jeremy Corbyn, there’s a new opposition in the house – Tory ex-chancellor Sajid Javid

Tom Peck
AFP/Getty

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the Conservative Party is once again having to provide its own opposition to the government, this time in the form of the recently ex-chancellor Sajid Javid, but we’ll come on to that shortly.

Watching what are technically the last days of Jeremy Corbyn but which have now lasted for longer than the dinosaurs walked the Earth, has come to remind me of the descent from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

No one really prepares you for the sheer psychological torture of the way down. By the fifth day, summit day, you’ve been going since midnight – you’re dizzy, you may well have thrown up, you’ve had your picture taken at sunrise at the top, and now it’s broad daylight and you’ve got a four-hour trudge down to the final campsite.

For the entire 240 terrible minutes, it’s right there in front of you – the toilets, the little tents, the boiling tea. The path is a direct descent, down a vicious wall of scree. It looks so terribly near. Hours pass that feel like years and yet its terrible outline doesn’t shift. It’s just there, right in front of your nose, a whole terrible world away.

After a while, it starts to feel not merely possible but probable that you will in fact never reach it. That you will in fact die on this miserable hill of dirt. That Jeremy Corbyn will still – still – be leader of the Labour Party.

It is now two months since the nation was forced to haul its way up the sad mountain of Electoral Common Sense. It conquered Jeremy Corbyn with great reluctance, like Gary Barlow doing his bit for Comic Relief.

And yet Corbyn is still here, torturing us still. Will it ever, ever be over? Can anyone be sure?

I am not altogether sure whether it behoves me actually to type out any of what happened at Prime Minister’s Questions, other than to say that Jeremy Corbyn did his best to pretend to be angry that Boris Johnson didn’t go and indulge in a pointless, counterproductive photo opportunity with flood victims.

He called Boris Johnson a “part-time prime minister.” Is he more, or less, part-time than a leader of the opposition for whom 24 hours is not long enough notice to drum up a question on the utterly damning report, published yesterday, that shows life expectancy is actively going down in economically disadvantaged areas? That 10 years of Tory government has failed in the most damning way that, short of war, any governing party can possibly fail?

Usually, on these occasions, NHS discussions descend into a tedious tit for tat owing to the fact that Labour technically “runs” the NHS in Wales (even though, importantly, it doesn’t set its budget), and it isn’t exactly going great.

And yet, this report was concerned only with England. It was as great a gift that any opposition could possibly ask for. And that is not to cheapen it either. The findings are horrific. Truly horrific. And the prime minister faced not a moment’s scrutiny on them.

The only scrutiny he did face, at all, came after the questions came to an end, when Sajid Javid rose from the backbenches to give his customary post-resignation statement.

“Advisers advise, ministers decide, and ministers decide on their advisers,” he told the prime minister, who looked visibly uncomfortable, very much for the first time. Javid resigned because he was told that to stay on, he would have to fire all his advisers. He refused.

Mr Javid, speaking with the relaxed air of a man who knows he has done the right thing – a rare sight in British politics these days – breezily explained how the relationship between No 10 and No 11 must be one of “mutual respect and trust that allows constructive, creative tension between teams”.

He was full of dutiful praise both for Johnson and his successor, Rishi Sunak, but he made it absolutely clear that, in his opinion, the merging of advisors between No 10 and the Treasury “is not in the national interest”.

It was a firm and well placed shot to Dominic Cummings. It left the route open for his return, but certainly only after Mr Cummings has departed. Predictions are a mug’s game in politics, but I stand by mine – that’ll happen sooner than you think. Quite possibly within these last 10,000 years of Jeremy Corbyn.

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