The 60-something candidate, initially priced at 100/1 by Ladbrokes, suddenly looks like he might actually win. The public seem to have had enough of the over-coached younger generation and his price tumbles to single figures, but the establishment judges warn that he is making a mockery of the contest.
I speak, of course, of the 2008 series of Strictly Come Dancing. John Sergeant saw off the likes of Gary Rhodes and Cherie Lunghi but then bowed out, saying:
“As time went on, it became increasingly obvious I might have won this competition. That is a frightening thought for me and for millions of people around the country. It would have been a very bitter sweet victory.”
Might Jeremy Corbyn do likewise? Only a week ago sources were adamant that he didnâ€™t want to be leader: â€œHe was very open about just wanting to influence the debate. It would ruin his summer, it would ruin his life.”
The Islington North MP himself initially acknowledged that he was only in the contest to broaden the debate and because it was â€œhis turnâ€ amongst the Campaign Group of leftwingers, following John McDonnell and Diane Abbottâ€™s candidacies in the last two contests.
However Wednesdayâ€™s FT (Â£)Â had one MP claiming that Corbyn was now taking his own chances much more seriously.
â€œGiven the amount of publicity and momentum he now has, I think he is beginning to seriously believe it is possible.â€
Yet Corbyn must know that his winning the leadership would prove hugely difficult for the party. It could spark an instant PLP coup, or a slew of defections, and it would do the party no good at all in the 2016 round of elections â€“ notably for London Mayor. Â Sadiq Khan, David Lammy and Gareth Thomas all lent JC their nominations (along with Diane Abbottâ€™s sincere nomination) and â€“ as a honourable man â€“ he might well be uncomfortable with repaying them in such a manner.
From the same FT article, another MP â€“ who nominated him â€“ suggests that Corbyn will â€œquietly tell his supporters to vote for Andy Burnham.â€ Well, sorry, but this format means that itâ€™s a bit late for that. Each MP is but one vote in this contest and every suggestion that the contest is being stitched up against him will only attract more registered supporters to join up. Absurdly, the electorate is still open for new entry until 12th August.
So perhaps â€“ if he still genuinely doesnâ€™t want to be leader, and/or he can see that itâ€™s simply not feasible for him to do the job â€“ he could try the John Sergeant move. A policy deal with Burnham, or perhaps some sort of understanding with all of the other candidates, would enable him to bow out with honour and thoroughly vindicate his candidacy. Whether that would be saleable to his supporters is an open question, but Labour will have the problem of a divided activist base whatever happens now.
MaybeÂ there is one crucial difference: Peter Mandelson backed Sergeant:
“He has become the people’s John Travolta and he should be a fighter, not a quitter.â€
Somehow I canâ€™t see the former Prince Of Darkness offering such effusive support this time.