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Saturday column

By Toby Neal | Politics | Published:

Tomorrow is the day.

A party leader can only take so much. A fractious membership which pays scant regard to the leadership, the prospect of years of Brexit turmoil, a general election currently scheduled for 2022 bringing with it more years at the top and having to put up with all the hassle...

Seeing all that ahead, no wonder it's time to look for the exit door and seek a dignified retirement.

And apart from anything else, tomorrow is his 70th birthday.

Yes, Jeremy Corbyn turns the big 7-0 tomorrow, and I can confidently and definitely predict that there might possibly be an announcement, unless there isn't one.

Sources from inside the Labour Party – that's tabloid-speak for "this is something I've made up" – told me: "Yes, it's true. With Jeremy turning 70 it seems a good time for him to look for an elegant way to hand over the baton to the younger generation.

"Nobody in the Parliamentary party is taking much notice of his leadership anyway, he's bored stiff with the Brexit business dominating everything, and there are as many policies on Brexit in Labour as there are MPs.

"And I'll have another pint, thanks."

Before we go on, let me wish Jezza a Happy Birthday. It's a great symbolic time to make the break and head for the allotment, especially if Labour does much better in the European election results than the opinion polls have been predicting – on past form, anyone who sets any store on the opinion polls, as Theresa May did with disastrous results for her in 2017, must be bonkers.

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It is not as if there are not candidates ready and waiting in the wings with clear policy agendas. There's Tom "Remain & Reform" Watson, espousing a UK policy on the EU which sounds exactly like that of David Cameron. Whatever happened to him by the way?

Then there's Labour's Stop Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer.

My money's on Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary. It's high time Labour had a woman leader for a start, she's part of a new generation of politicians for a second, she's not one of Labour's London clique, and she was also one of Labour's team in the doomed cross-party Brexit talks, so she will have her finger on the pulse of the various issues.

There have been rumours in the past that Mr Corbyn who, remember, was an accidental leader, thinks he has run his race and would like to step down.

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If he had his 70th birthday in mind for the deed, admittedly circumstances have made it more problematic. A time of chaos and open rebellion in the Conservative Party with Theresa May on political death row wouldn't be the best timing for an Opposition leader to call it a day.

Mr Corbyn needs to be in office to milk it for all its worth, rather than for Labour to have the distraction of its own leadership contest.

Oh very well, if we must, let's move on to the plight of Theresa May, if she's still in office as you read this.

Yawn, zzzz... Who cares? What does it matter? I heard Wednesday described on the radio as being "a dramatic day." A dramatic day when nothing happened.

There's been some trotting out of that tired old Enoch Powell quote about all political lives ending in failure (he actually included an important qualification – "unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture.")

This clearly isn't a happy juncture, so it will be the verdict of history that Theresa May's efforts on Brexit ended in failure.

Yet, as this is going to take on the tone of a political obituary, I shall in the best traditions of obituaries go out of my way to be kind and say that, on the contrary, Theresa May's efforts were a success.

She negotiated a Brexit deal which was agreed with the EU when a lot of people thought that to do so was impossible and were just waiting for her to fail.

It was not just her deal which failed to gain Parliamentary approval, but the deal agreed by Macron, Merkel, Grybauskaite, and all the other EU leaders. And nobody is saying Barnier, Tusk, Macron, and Merkel failed, are they?

We also have to discuss what "fail" means in the context. On BBC's Any Questions recently, Labour's Emily Thornberry said Westminster politicians had failed on Brexit. It was the comedian on the panel who said quite the opposite was true, and that the politicians had succeeded, because Brexit, a project the Commons has never had its heart in, has not taken place.

By that benchmark, Theresa May will go down in history as one of Britain's most successful Prime Ministers.

As I say, I am trying to be kind.

.........

"You can only vote for one party."

What? Let me not be afraid to admit to my own ignorance.

Going along to vote in the European elections, I had assumed that I would be presented with a pick 'n' mix of candidates to choose from. So if I thought Bill Bloggs from one party was a good chap, and Alison Tuffett of a different party was a sparkling and capable candidate, I could send both separately to the European parliament, giving the legislature the benefit of their individual talents.

No, you can't do that, the staff in the polling booth told me. You can only vote for one party.

What that means is that this was an election in which personal merit counted for nothing. And you could find yourself with no option but to vote for some people you might think are complete duffers.

In the unlikely event that you had heard of them in the first place.

..........

The tributes to Niki Lauda have concentrated on his Formula One exploits and his comeback after that horrific car crash.

He was though a hero in another field, that of commercial aviation. He said the darkest time of his life came when one of his airline's planes crashed in 1991 with the loss of 223 lives. Lauda took an immediate personal part in the crash investigation, visited the scene, examined wreckage, and attended the funeral of some of the passengers.

Initially a bomb was suspected, but as evidence began to point to the uncommanded deployment of an engine thrust reverser, Lauda conducted his own simulator tests. When Boeing said that accidental deployment was survivable, Lauda said he would be willing to go up in a 767 himself to find out if that was true.

As a racing driver, Lauda had responsibility for his own life. As an airline company boss, he was exemplary in taking personal responsibility for the lives of his passengers.

Boeing please note.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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