Tom Richmond: Marcelo Bielsa provides a lesson in tactics as Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May fail major tests of leadership

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa was briefing reporters on footblal tactics, and his approach, while MPs were debating a no confidence motion in Theresa May. This illustration is by Graeme Bandeira, The Yorkshire Post's very own cartoonist.
Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa was briefing reporters on footblal tactics, and his approach, while MPs were debating a no confidence motion in Theresa May. This illustration is by Graeme Bandeira, The Yorkshire Post's very own cartoonist.
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THERESA MAY’S government survived a vote of no confidence this week. Now when is one going to be called over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn so he can be given the red card?

For, if the Prime Minister has had another torrid week, the leader who wants her job has not covered himself in any glory. To be brutally frank, no premier should be able to survive, however stoic they may be, when the key plank of their Government’s policy has been defeated by a landslide 230 votes.

Tom Richmond: Theresa May must forge new style of dialogue to break Brexit impasse and survive

Yet this is what happened on Tuesday night when the biggest defeat in Commons history was inflicted on Mrs May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

However, just 24 hours later, the Tory leader survived a vote of no confidence after Mr Corbyn made no attempt to reach out to the handful of Tory MPs that he was going to need in order for his motion to pass.

Why not? He must have known, just like everyone else, that the May deal was going to be defeated and been ready for his big moment. No wonder his MPs were listening on with incredulity when a polished performance might have convinced Tories like Sir Bill Cash, who believe Mrs May should have resigned this week, to force her out of office.

And when a humbled Mrs May said she would now work with other leaders on a cross-party basis – a move that she should have made at the outset of his premiership in a bid to form a 11th hour consensus – he petulantly declined and told his top team to follow his example.

To use footballing parlance familiar with Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa, who provided a tactical masterclass on the very same day that our politicians could learn from because of its attention to detail, Mr Corbyn snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with an own goal.

His tactics looked opportunist when a show of statesmanship would have enhanced his reputation and political credentials. Even Tony Blair was, for once, silent when asked if he backed Labour’s call for an election.

And, if Mr Corbyn’s strategy is to play for time, and then wrong-foot the country by changing sides in extra time and backing a second referendum, he should say so now. If not, Labour need to review their tactics – and leader.

EVEN though Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC did his best Rumpole of the Bailey impression when he spoke up in the Commons in defence of the Government’s Brexit blueprint, he was guilty of a Parliamentary faux pas.

The theatrics of the plum-voiced Mr Cox, one of the country’s highest paid barristers, meant he spent most of the time addressing Tory backbenchers rather than trying to engage with Opposition MPs.

If he had done so, Leeds MP Rachel Reeves – chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee – would not have had to make repeated requests for Mr Cox to give way and take interventions.

At one point, he complained: “Her own colleagues say that I am taking too long, and I must wind up.” An early candidate for the weakest excuse of the year.

YORKSHIRE’S very own Betty Boothroyd, a distinguished former Speaker, was on fine form this week recalling her stint as a government whip under Harold Wilson – and the complexity of referenda. “He said that anyone who claimed that membership of the European Community was a black and white issue was either a charlatan or a simpleton,” she said.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which adjective is the most applicable, but it should be pointed out that Baroness Boothroyd immediately continued her remarks by saying: “Which brings me to Mr Boris Johnson.”

AT least Theresa May did not suffer the embarrassment that James Callaghan did in the 1979 no confidence debate when backbench MP John Stokes interrupted proceedings to tell the Speaker: “I have just received a message that the State dinner that you were to give tonight to a foreign parliamentary delegation has been cancelled due to industrial action.”

BE in no doubt that the most powerful party at Westminster is Northern Ireland’s DUP. If their MPs had switched sides in the no confidence debate and vote, Theresa May would have lost by one vote, just as James Callaghan did in 1979. Expect even more money to head to Belfast after Labour threatened renewed attempts to bring down the PM.

IT is ironic that the 1979 no confidence vote came about because the then Labour government declined to implement the result of a referendum in favour of creating a Scottish assembly as turnout fell short of the 40 per cent threshold agreed in advance. If only safeguards, like margin of victory, were put in place when David Cameron called his vote on Brexit.

AFTER being confronted about Brexit, David Cameron regretted the “difficulties and the problems we’ve been having trying to implement the result” before doing a runner – and completing his morning jog. He hasn’t changed. Look how he ran away when he lost the 2016 referendum.

PHILIP Davies, the Shipley MP, scuttled from the Commons moments before this week’s Brexit vote. Was he off to place a bet on the outcome? No, he informs me that he wanted to be the first to register his opposition.

THIS brings me to the aptly-named racehorse Brexitmeansbrexit. Despite a rare win last summer, she’s been out of action since finishing ninth out of 13 runners at Kempton and then sixth out of seven at Lingfield. An omen for Theresa May’s Brexit strategy?

tom.richmond@jpimedia.co.uk