How a Labour opposition leader can show and command respect | Letters

Sean Day-Lewis cites Harold Wilson as the kind of opposition leader the current candidates should aspire to be, while David Hughes urges Jess Phillips to show more courtesy to the prime minister

As a Labour member presently torn between Keir Starmer, the safe pair of hands, and Jess Phillips, the exciting prospect, I am grateful for Phillips’ manifesto (My blueprint for a politics you can trust, Journal, 15 January).

I am at one with all that she writes. But I have a question mark against the idea that our leader, as all the candidates imply, must above all steer our party back to power. Alas that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. What is needed now is an effective leader of the opposition. One who can find their way through the shambolic defences of the “blond baboon” who the English have voted into power.

As it happens I was a bit of a newspaper observer allowed to watch Harold Wilson in Commons action as opposition leader. With brilliant skill, wit and memory, invariably displayed at PMQs, he scored each week against his PM targets, especially in the Douglas-Home era. I have to admit that I was only there because my then colleague Bill Deedes MP, who had covered parliament for the dullest gossip column ever produced, the Telegraph’s Peterborough column, had been called into government as propaganda minister in the wake of Profumo’s downfall.

In those days, believe it or not, the Torygraph was reasonably even-handed outside its leader pages. My sketches were sadly moderate and indeed mediocre. But I could imply that whatever may be thought of Wilson as PM, underrated I feel, he was the best opposition leader of my lifetime – an example to be followed.

As I approach my 90th year, with an 85-year-old wife who makes us good marmalade (Letters, 16 January), I realise that I will be lucky to have another general election vote. All the more reason that I, like others on the approach to old age, should join with the younger Labour majority and think of what is needed for at least five more Tory years, as well as planning for a better future.
Sean Day-Lewis
Colyton, Devon

• In the first paragraph of her six-point plan to restore trust in politics, Jess Phillips refers to our current prime minister as “the blond baboon”. While I am no fan of the PM, I nevertheless respect the fact that he was democratically elected on a popular mandate and believe his electoral success should strengthen, not weaken, our “trust in democracy as the best means of delivering what the public wants”. Indeed, a lack of respect for him or any politician disrespects the public who elected them. Therefore, could tolerance and respect, in place of contempt and discourtesy, form the basis of a seventh point in Phillips’ plan?
David Hughes
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

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