It isn’t long ago that we were all supposed to have learned the lesson that relying on opinion polls as Gospel truth was sometimes a mistake – the Lib Dem vote holding up, the breakthrough for UKIP and a Miliband government were all thought inevitable, but the polling didn’t match the reality.
And yet here we are again – it certainly seems likely from the polls and the general mood that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership, indeed it is fair to say it is the most likely outcome. However, it still isn’t a certainty. The outside possibility remains that the prospect of his victory has spurred more reasonable people into action – the quiet moderates – resulting in essentially the 1992 General Election repeated in miniature.
In politics it is worth preparing for every conceivable eventuality, particularly when the matter at hand is as important as who leads the Opposition. No doubt CCHQ as a file as thick as my torso, labeled ‘Awful things Jeremy Corbyn has said’, but how prepared are they to face the other competitors?
In the event of Corbyn falling short – winning the first round but being pipped on second preferences would seem the biggest risk – the Conservatives would at least have one instant boon. The hard left – in Parliament, in Labour’s grassroots and particularly in the large numbers of people who have signed up specifically to support the Bearded Wonder – would instantly start to cause trouble for whoever had defeated him.
This is a movement, newly coalesced around one man, which is prone to wild conspiracy theories. Secret cabals control the world, jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, and don’t even ask about all the things the – ahem – “zionists” have a hand in. It would be inevitable that some would declare the whole race had been fixed by Blairites – cue chaos.
Even those who don’t buy into such ideas will simply decide that if a snap revolution hasn’t worked then a long march through the institutions is required instead. MPs will face deselection, the unions will attach even more policy strings to their donations, and anyone derided as a “secret Tory” (which is pretty much everyone who isn’t a Corbynite) will find it tough to secure and retain advancement.
And throughout it all, Corbyn himself is now a known name. He will be on the Labour benches in some capacity whatever happens, and what he says will wield genuine influence within his party. Perhaps he might be brought into the Shadow Cabinet to appease his supporters, but once there he would be an unsackable liability.
So if the good news is that any non-Corbyn leader would still be hobbled by the persistence of the Corbynites, what is the bad news?
Well, that while the others – Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – aren’t particularly plausible candidates for Prime Minister, they are at least somewhat more competent than Corbyn himself. My guess would be that if someone does pip him to the post it would be Yvette Cooper, who is also the best attacker of the three. Given that she has recently intervened on the need to accept more refugees into the UK, she would instantly be able to attribute her victory in part to that speech and then launch a furious assault on the Government on the topic.
This is, after all, her subject area – she has been Shadow Home Secretary for four years. She would be able to hit the ground running, unlike any of her competitors. That is a clear short term threat – we mustn’t get so caught up in the anticipation of facing Corbyn that we fail to prepare for it.