Barring accident or illness the Labour leader is certain to lead the party into the next election and is very likely to stay whatever the result may be
If Labour was deadly serious about defeating the Tories at the next general election, Jeremy Corbyn would no longer be the party’s leader. The polling since Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister and installed the most right-wing government the UK has ever seen tells exactly the same story that it told when Theresa May was in charge: Corbyn is deeply unpopular in every conceivable demographic except one – the Labour Party’s membership. Actually, you can make that two. The Tory faithful love him too.
Don’t think this fact is lost on those who surround the Labour leader. They may be many things, but stupid is not one of them. The likes of John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, Andrew Murray, Dianne Abbott, Jon Lansman and Karie Murphy can read the opinion polls, they get the data. They realise that Corbyn is utterly toxic throughout the UK and across every age group. They understand that he costs Labour support.
In fact, we are probably now at the stage where only the spectacularly obtuse Richard Burgon among Labour MPs and officials genuinely believes Corbyn is well-liked and leading the party to victory. But that does not mean Corbyn is on his way out. There is no chance of that.
Amidst all the Johnson coverage, what you may not have noticed is that the far-left is in the process of falling out with itself. There are serious splits emerging on anti-Semitism – in particular, over whether Chris Williamson MP should be expelled from the party – while the gaping sore that is Brexit policy shows no sign of being healed. Jeremy Corbyn is the only thing that continues to hold the different strands together. Trotskyists and Stalinists, of course, have never been the best of friends.
If Corbyn were to stand down, it would be tough to find another candidate from that wing of the Labour party who could unite it. Meanwhile, all the indications are that the members – who long ago chose Corbyn over victory – would plump for a Starmer or a Thornberry if a leadership contest took place and Corbyn was not in it. John McDonnell would have a fighting chance, but there would be no guarantees. And it’s guarantees the far-left needs.
Having spent decades waiting to take control of the Labour party, it is not going to let anything as trivial as kicking the Tories out of power in a general election get in the way of sealing the deal completely. A change of leader now could put the entire project at risk.
Without Corbyn holding the far-left together, the danger is that it would fragment. That would leave the soft-left free to assert itself not only at the top, but also within the wider party – on the NEC, at the regional level and within CLPs. But for as long as Corbyn is there and Corbyn-backing slates can be put to members in party elections that risk is minimised.
What all this means is that barring accident or illness, Jeremy Corbyn will lead Labour into the next general election. And whatever the result that is almost certainly where he will stay. Corbyn himself may hate it, but he knows the score: there will be no Labour leadership election until a viable replacement for him can be found.
Ideally, the next leader will be a woman – Labour members are very aware that the party stands out like a sore thumb in never having had one – so realistically we are looking at either Laura Pidcock or Rebecca Long Bailey to be the far-left candidate. Angela Rayner is considered too off-message, while no-one trusts Emily Thornberry. The likes of Yvette Cooper and Lisa Nandy are not even close.
Currently, though, Pidcock and Long Bailey are largely invisible to all but the most committed of members. It will take time for that to change. Were one of them to go up against Cooper, Thornberry or Nandy now (and it would only be one given the nomination process) the chances are she would lose. Both need to be more prominent more regularly in the Commons and on TV to become better known and to develop followings. So, it is a five-year project, not a six month one.
Of course, none of this means that the Tories can consider themselves home and dry when the next election comes. Although the recent polling shows them enjoying a Johnson bounce, the combined Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green vote is on or around the 50% mark. As the No Deal rhetoric ratchets up over the summer and into the autumn, and deadline day approaches, that may well mean voters switching as they seek the best way to stop it happening.
Corbyn may be disliked, but it could just be that the idea of No Deal is hated even more. Undoubtedly, though, he makes the Conservative path to victory less daunting. Boris Johnson has always been lucky in his Labour foes. That luck shows no sign of abating.
Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. He tweets as SpaJW