Corbynmania is the word of the week. It’s hardly surprising; compared to Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, who seem dedicated to speaking in cliché and, in the case of Burnham, rather prone to flip-flopping, Corbyn has an ability rare among politicians: to speak like a real human being. The only other big-shot British politicians who are able to sound like they actually mean what they say and speak a language other than politicianese are Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage, and the landslide victory in Scotland for the SNP as well as the UKIP surge to almost 4 million votes proves that speaking human is a real vote winner. At the beginning of the Labour leadership election the bookies had Corbyn at 100/1, today he is the favourite with odds slightly under evens.
What’s a Blairite to do? The fatal mistake that the Blairite wing of the party made was putting all their eggs into the basket of Chuka Umunna. By failing to have a Plan B (likely in the form of Tristram Hunt), they were saddled with Liz Kendall, a candidate nobody wanted but who was lucky enough to throw her name in the hat while the Blairites were preparing to rally behind Umunna. She’s been such a spectacular failure that those on the centre of the Party have all but abandoned her in favour of Yvette Cooper, with some even suggesting that Kendall ought to drop out of the race to give Cooper a better chance (not that this makes any sense – the AV system that the Labour leadership uses means that Kendall cannot steal votes from Cooper).
When Umunna announced that he was withdrawing his bid for leadership, it put the Blairites in a rather sticky situation – some opted to support Kendall, whereas others realised that she could not win and instead flocked to Cooper, or, in fewer cases, Burnham. Plan A has failed, and it seems that because there was no Plan B, many have resorted to plan ABC – Anyone But Corbyn. I’d like to offer an alternative to the Labour faction of the party: rally behind the hard-left candidate.
Two weeks after the election, the Guardian published an editorial arguing that Labour should not elect a new leader in the immediate aftermath of the election, instead urging them to appoint Alan Johnson as an interim leader and take some time to reflect upon the reasons we lost the election. This was an idea that didn’t get picked up much by Labour, but it was a good one. Not only would it have allowed Labour to have time to reflect, but it also would have given potential leaders time to shine in opposition, and allowed candidates with fairly little experience (read: Keir Starmer) to prepare for a possible leadership bid. Voting for Corbyn could be a way of voting for the option of an interim leader; a ‘none of the above’ candidate. Jeremy Corbyn entered this race with no intention of becoming Labour leader, he is ill-prepared for the actual responsibilities of leadership and it is unlikely that he wants the job. By the time of the election, he’d be 71, and if he became Prime Minister, the earliest realistic opportunity he would have to step down would be the time he was 75, making him the oldest post-war Prime Minister.
It is nigh-on impossible that Corbyn would still be leader in 2020. It’s very likely that he’d voluntarily step down: he never planned on becoming Labour leader (like the MPs who nominated him, his plan was to drag the debate to the left rather than to actually lead the Labour Party), he has never particularly wanted to be high-up in government, and he has expressed support for the idea that there should be labour leadership elections more often than every election. Even if he did fancy a pop at PM in 2020, a Blairite coup from within the Parliamentary Labour Party is almost inevitable – if the polls showed that Corbyn was on course to take a thrashing it’s unlikely that MPs who have served under Miliband would not take the initiative and dispose of him. This would mean a re-run of the election with decent candidates. There are many who could stand and would have a decent chance of winning the election – Tristram Hunt, Dan Jarvis, Keir Starmer, it’s even possible that David Miliband could be parachuted in for a by-election and could take the helm.
Even if the worst did happen and Corbyn took Labour into the 2020 election, if he loses the hard-left of the party can no longer make the argument that Labour would have won the election if they had gone further to the left, and the choice after the election would be between candidates who had a shot at winning an election who were far better than the candidates we’ve been presented with at the moment. If, by some miracle, Corbyn wins, I think most people in the Labour Party, even those who occupy its centre, would be content to see a Labour government.
Although it goes against the instincts of those on the pragmatic centre-left of the Labour Party, the sensible choice in this leadership election is to vote for Corbyn. The polls have shown that although Corbyn is very unlikely to win the election in 2020, the other candidates are just as hopeless – at least Corbyn excites and inspires. There are plenty of talents centre-left MPs, and a vote for Corbyn is a vote to give them a chance.