And so, a little ahead of schedule, to the opening show of Labour Leadership Stakes betting. From the moment of his election in September, the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn surviving until 2020 was remote. It was assumed that his tenure would end quickly and unprettily, even by many of those who thrilled to this startling realisation of a political fantasy.
Corbyn’s rise had the flavour of a non-anminated Disney film in which, through a chain of events far beyond human understanding, a lovably unwordly occasional golfer from an Appalachian mountain village finds himself leading the US Masters.
While last week’s trifecta of fiasci involving his closest associates (Ken Livingstone’s Wildean thrusts about mental health; John McDonnell’s amnesia about supporting the disbandment of special police squads; Diane Abbott insouciantly writing Christmas cards during a fraught PLP meeting) didn’t help, what unmistakably foreshortens the time-frame is the indelibly branded mental image of Corbyn contemplatively sucking his pencil while jihadist maniacs are on the loose.
Whether or not a poor result in the coming Oldham by-election is the catalyst, the runners and riders for the race to replace him gingerly trot towards the paddock – and what a competitive field it is. The soporific shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, is the 3-1 favourite, though primarily because the form book smiles on caretaker leaders with girls’ names beginning with H. Assuming she will be inspired by another Hillary (Clinton) to put an abysmal first run behind her and try again, Yvette Cooper is the 9–2 second favourite. Chuka Umuna is quoted at 6-1 “with a run” (that’s if the bashful “British Obama” can master his phobia of publicity). Former soldier Dan Jarvis, impressive lone wolf Stella Creasy, Sooty’s pal Sweep, and self-exiled crybaby narcissist David Miliband are on 10s. René, the bald guy from Aqua, is expected to stand on the “Come on party, let’s have a barbie!” platform. He is available at 12-1, with deputy leader Tom Watson each-way value at 16-1. Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer, the late Professor Stanley Unwin, Chris Leslie, Gloria Del Piero, Tristram Hunt and Darcey Bussell are bracketed on 20s. Angela Eagle is 25-1, and ritual whipping boy Andy Burnham looks too short at 33-1. Trident megafan Liz Kendall and 2014 Greyhound Derby winner Salad Dodger are 66-1 shots, and it’s 100-1 bar those. There is one very glaring absentee. If and when Alan Johnson is finally persuaded to do his duty, at the fourth time of asking, the book will immediately be closed.
Names to conjure with
How refreshing to find Andrew Neil going viral with that empassioned address on BBC1’s This Week. Andrew may be no John Oliver, who used wit to express a similar sentiment on his US talk show. But judging by his recitation of French things and citizens which will never take a hell of a beating from the “Islamist scumbags” and “losers” of Islamic State, he is at least a modern Bjørge Lillelien. “Descartes, Boulet, Monet, Sartre, Rousseau, Camus, etc, etc,” recited Andrew. “Hugo, Voltaire, Matisse, Debussy ... Coco Chanel, Château Lafite, Coq au vin, Daft Punk, Zizou Zidane, Juliette Binoche, crème brûlée.” Lillelien, for younger readers, was the football commentator who celebrated Norway’s 1981 defeat of England with a list of those – “Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana. Maggie Thatcher ...” – whose boys took a hell of a beating. Nice to find Andrew paying homage to a legend of the game.
A word of support
The contagion from the Conservative bullying scandal threatens at least two ministers. Before we come to Robert Halfon, whom expelled “Tatler Tory” Mark Clarke allegedly intended to blackmail over an affair with a young Tory activist, a word of support for Grant Shapps.
He is accused of being instrumental in the promotion of Mr Clarke, despite the latter’s bespoke approach to enforcing party discipline apparently being common knowledge at the time. I find that hard to believe. If Shappsy is known for anything – apart from using a sobriquet to flog his get-rich-quick merchandise; or being an “over-firm denier” (Shappsian rhyming slang, you will recall, for “out and out liar”) that he still marketed his drivel after becoming an MP; or the suggestion, emphatically denied, that he maliciously doctored Wikipedia entries of colleagues who annoyed him – it’s for being a safe pair of hands.
That’s why David Cameron appointed him as Conservative co-chairman. It’s hardly a job which any prime minister in his right mind would give to a cocky, bumptious chancer with the look of a third-rate Arthur Daley associate and the political nous of a syphilitic Tibetan mountain yak. Now is it?
As for Robert Halfon, a minister without portfolio, the bullying row has led to the revelation that he entertained a woman other than his long-term partner at the gentleman’s club, the East India, for which he claimed expenses when staying in town. Halfon’s defensive point that she never stayed the night may not make him sound either gallant or committed (Robert Halfon-the-Job, so it seems, and Robert Halfoff-It). On the other hand, if you absolutely must engage in Ugandan discussions, where better than at the East India?