Does Britain have a new, unofficial leader of the opposition?
‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest’? I am sure Downing Street and the ivory tower of Tory Press HQ echoed to those calls today, following the intervention of Dr Rowan Williams into high politics today, rightly attacking the democratic legitimacy of the Coalition government. I think Williams was perfectly right and well within his rights to say what he said. However, that is an issue I have aimed to address elsewhere – the above question is prompted by my feeling that there are whiffs of jealously in some of the Labour responses to Williams.
I wasnt really being unserious when I wrote on my Facebook page that part of the problem for Labourites may well be that Williams is more insightful and piercing with his critique of the government than anything Ed Miliband can usually muster. In going straight for the legitimacy argument, Williams has seen and seized the central point and attacked the most strategically important weakness this government has. If only Labour strategists were so gifted and insightful.
Having said that Williams would struggle to be an unofficial leader of the opposition because key constituencies would struggle to support him. I am thinking of left/liberals and left-wingers in general who are mostly at odds with him being allowed a personal political opinion of any kind. However, he will cause serious problems for the government amoung its own key constituencies and this could be his major contribution to the downfall of the government.
This explains the nervous response of Downing Street which ‘welcomed’ his contribution to the debate. A Conservative Prime Minister, already struggling for popularity with his own core vote, can barely be seen to be openly attacking the head of the Church of England. This gives Williams a leeway Labour doesn’t have – his sniping will undermine the confidence of the ‘blue rinse’ brigade that this government is on the right track and may well sap morale. Of course, these people would unite against this attack had it come from a Labour or close to Labour source but Williams successfully executed a sneak attack on Cameron & Co.
So, the answer is no, Williams will struggle to become a new, unofficial head of Britain’s opposition. In some ways this is a shame and in many ways its a poor commentary on the official opposition and its leadership. Having said that however, his voice could be a powerful clarion call to forces that would not usually respond to a Labour one and could well fracture the social coalition that the government rests on – so, he could well have a key role to play in the end of this government and we certainly have not heard the last from him.