TULIP Siddiq was apparently seen scurrying through Westminster Hall before she had resigned from Labour’s front bench (but with everybody knowing that she was probably about to) yesterday, being pursued by one of the news channels asking her to do the deed live on air.
There were echoes of the indulgent journalism row and media frowning which followed Stephen Doughty’s live resignation on the BBC last year; a blogpost on the Corporation’s website which sort of bragged about how every Corbynista’s favourite political editor Laura Kuenssberg had ‘sealed the deal’ by getting him to do it in the studio just before Prime Minister’s Questions was later removed as everybody got uptight about the ethics of the piece.
Doughty, however, had not been frogmarched to Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics altar. Whatever Kuenssberg said, did or offered, it was his decision to embarrass his leader in the maximum way an unheard of shadow minister could.
Tulip, however, said no to the invitation to repeat the caper yesterday, and after contacting Jeremy Corbyn’s office to say she could not abide by a three-line whip ordering Labour MPs to vote in favour of Article 50, and releasing her resignation letter to the Guardian, she was noticeably missing from the news broadcasts yesterday evening.
I would’ve thought she would have been a shoo-in for a slot on Newsnight. Her phone rung hot, but she has restricted her comments about her resignation from the shadow front bench. There will be one comment piece on the Guardian website, I gather, but not much more.
Opening up in a little interview with the New Journal this morning, it’s interesting to find her, amid a spot of chaos within the Labour Party on an issue which is meant to be more divisive for the Tories, still very respectful about Corbyn. He’s not to blame for Brexit, he’s still the leader the members wanted, I won’t do media tours slamming him, she says.
In doing so, she continues to tiptoe carefully through the unpredictable lie of her constituency. Her resignation should hose any attempt by the Liberal Democrats, the only party promising to be full scale Brexit blockers, to use the issue to eat away at her lead in Hampstead and Kilburn. But then there is how she comes across to the Corbynistas too. She is never gratuitously rude about Corbyn like some of the others have been in the rebellion, even though she almost certainly thinks there are better candidates to be leader within the Labour ranks (maybe even her fellow Camden MP Keir Starmer who she is conversely gratuitously glowing about).
Firstly, I think she is genuine when she says she respects Corbyn’s service to the Labour Party on that north London local-local level at least. But also,she is aware that, while most of the top local posts in her own constituency at a council and branch level are held by Labour centrists, the wider membership nominated Mr Corbyn to be leader on her patch.
Whether they would’ve done in the same numbers if they had been offered a more inspiring alternative than Owen Smith, whom a lot had not actually come across before last summer, is a big ‘what if’, but as it stands Camden’s constituencies sided with Corbyn and Tulip is accordingly the politest of rebels. She is deserting here with a classic ‘it’s me, not you’ break-up line, telling him he’s a decent man but leaving her post all the same.
The irony, however, is that as Tulip repeats her commitment to her constituents over and over again – she’d already broken the Labour whip on HS2, let’s not forget, without the national press seeming to either notice or care – she is not actually sure that these cherished constituents will be the same people who hold the vote on her political future at the next election.
She is able to earn admiration from left-wingers impressed by her calls to coalesce around a leader who won two internal votes, as much as she is from Europhiles and liberal classes terrified by what Brexit will lead to. While once considered lightweight in some quarters, she has won over some of the doubting residents too by saying all the right things to them on red flag local issues, regularly speaking out against Iran for the obscure jailing of West Hampstead mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for example and championing pressed-upon junior docs at the Royal Free.
But she isn’t able to do much about boundary changes: however carefully she steps, a cannonball is coming this way. If the suggested changes to her political territory are approved, the sense from both Labour and Conservative organisers is that the deep trenches she has been able to dig in the constituency over a relatively short time, the conjuring of a sort of Tulip brand loyalty, could simply be sidestepped in a re-ordered map, most likely with the Tory MP in Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, sliding into position from his own obliterated seat to defeat her. Wherever Tulip stands on Brexit, the Corbyn revolution or anything else for that matter, Labour here could be relying on amendments to those Boundary Commission proposals to dampen the mounting Conservative excitement about that prospect.