Lingering Labour pain: Unless the new leader is given time to fail, or succeed, the only real winner in this election will be the Tories


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The Independent Online

Most new party leaders at least get a bit of a honeymoon from their supporters, sometimes even from the public and the media too. Jeremy Corbyn, it seems, would not.

Although it is not certain that the last ballots being cast in the Labour leadership contest will deliver him the extraordinary victory so widely expected, if he does win then he will rest uneasily on the throne from his first hours in office. As we report, Labour centrists – and, indeed, what remains of the Blairite faction of the party – are already considering what they should do if the opinion polls are, this time, proved correct. Will they serve in the Shadow Cabinet or government? Will they publicly, and privately, back Mr Corbyn? Will they go around making coded speeches to undermine him – or not-so-coded ones to “provoke a debate in the party”?

The real question, of course, is whether they will accept the verdict of the party’s membership. The vote may well be closer than anyone expects – with a late showing by Yvette Cooper offering the tantalising prospect of a second surprise to overtake the original shock of the Corbyn surge. But, if he wins, Mr Corbyn will have a mandate to lead his party under the rules the party introduced to increase participation. It is very unlikely that any so-called infiltration by the left or by Conservative mischief-makers would make a substantive difference.

No one yet knows what a Corbyn leadership would actually be like. The widespread assumption is that he would simply take the party to the left and keep it there. Certainly that would be his instinct, and, again a direction many of his party’s membership would welcome. It also depends on how far figures such as Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall go to try and reconcile their views with his. They have been more or less clear about what they would like to do, but the more that people such as they, and Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt boycott the Corbyn leadership, the more he will be able to ignore them. It is their duty to serve their party and their leader, and for them to push for their policies from within. To abstain, to run away, to sulk – this is not only not in Labour’s best interests, but would hardly serve to put Labour back on the road to social democracy. If they would rather have, say, Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham as shadow Chancellor than John McDonnell, then they simply have to argue for the job and take the opportunity of the vote they got in the leadership election and the strength of their case to pull Labour away from the brink. The fact that Mr Corbyn was a serial rebel, who showed successive Labour leaders zero loyalty, doesn’t make it right for others to behave in the same way.

None of which means that Labour shouldn’t change leader again if and when Mr Corbyn loses the confidence of his party. If anything, Labour has been too shy historically at ditching failing leaders, with the telling exception of Tony Blair. What Labour has always been prone to, especially in the Parliamentary party, is endlessly discussing the leadership, spinning destabilising stories in the media, fostering plots and stratagems to remove the incumbent, and then ending up doing precisely nothing: the worst of all worlds. From Clement Attlee to Ed Miliband, that has been the constant pattern. There is every sign that it is starting over, and once again it will only benefit  the Conservatives.