by Samuel Dale
Jeremy Corbyn is now the bookies’ favourite to win the Labour leadership contest. A couple of dodgy polls puts him miles clear and Corbyn-mania has gripped the nation.
The media is losing the plot. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle thinks he could become prime minister. The Telegraph’s Mary Riddell says he is the a modern politician not a dinosaur. And the Guardian’s Owen Jones believes he would be just swell.
As Atul Hatwal has written this is the same suspension of reality that gripped the nation prior to Ed Miliband’s defeat in May. It is still highly unlikely Corbyn will win.
But humour me. What if on September 13 we wake up to a party in the hands of a leader as unprepared and unsuited to the job since Michael Foot?
For so-called Blarites – moderates who want to actually win and change Britain – there are only two options. Stand and fight to wrest back control of Labour from the grip of a Marxist cabal heading for electoral oblivion.
Or split and create a new party, perhaps forming an alliance with Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats.
Let’s take them in turn.
First, let’s stay.
Corbyn has no governing experience, he is easily riled, his policies are mad and he has numerous unsavory foreign connections.
The intense scrutiny he would be under as Labour leader combined with the lack of experience could see him off within 18 months.
Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Chuka Ummuna have already said they would not serve in a Corbyn cabinet. How many others would refuse? Lots.
Vast swathes of the PLP would surely just ignore the party whip and vote as they please, just as Corbyn has done more than 500 times since 1997.
The utter disarray and insane policies could see Labour’s poll ratings crash to the low 20s by January 2018 – that’s on generous mid-term polling. His impact on an EU referendum vote would be minuscule due to wide unpopularity.
in this scenario Corbyn would be ousted and a sensible Labour leader could be in place for the next election. For this to happen, Labour moderates would have to be far more ruthless in ousting terrible leaders, far better organised and much more persuasive than today.
Wounds could heal as everyone admits they made a mistake a la Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 and the party unites for the election. That is the best case scenario for staying and it is compelling.
But even if Corbyn somehow stumbled into the next election and was wiped out then we could rebuild. We came back from 1983 and the Tories came back from 1997. The long, hard slog is the only realistic road back to a Labour victory and kicking the Tories out.
Alternatively, let’s leave.
Leaving would be arguably more principled because a Corbyn premiership would be a disaster for Britain.
Many Labour MPs would almost certainly even favour George Osborne or Theresa May as prime minister in 2020 than Corbyn. That would be a tough position to stay in the party.
It would also be tough to stay in a party as an MP if you are ignoring the whip constantly (even if that doesn’t seem to mean much to Corbyn).
Additionally, the impact of his disastrous leadership could not be easily unwound. If Corbyn was ousted before an election and replaced with a moderate then the far Left would cry blue murder.
The same coalition of Trots and delusionists that got him elected would be furious. It could poison the party and taint the new leader infecting the party for years. Labour could still split but from an even worse position.
And if Corbyn was allowed to run an election campaign in 2020 then it could be the most disastrous ever, worse than 1983 and worse than 1997 for the Tories.
If the Tories dominate the centre and somehow hold together after the EU vote then Corbyn could lose another 100 seats. The newly left-wing and moderate Lib Dems could surge.
Post-2020 the party could still fracture but in a much worse position than now and even more bitterly. There is no guarantee we could fight back from such as disaster. It could spell the end of the Labour party anyway.
That’s the case for leaving in September and starting on the work of a creating a new party immediately. Before it is too late.
There are no good options flowing from a Corbyn victory. Either the Labour right stay and tell the truth about the impending car crash to be proved right once again. And pick up the wreckage.
Or they leave and try to build a new moderate centre-left-party and replace the remnants of a Corbynite Labour over the next decade.
Personally, I think we should stay and fight. Even after a Corbyn leadership the Labour party can bounce back.
A split would do nothing to stop the Tories politically and nothing to practically change the nation in the way we want. The scars of the 1981 SDP split are still felt today. The Lib Dems’ moderate offer in May was hardly lapped up by voters either.
It’s a tough road but sensible Labour MPs must stay under Corbyn and keep telling the truth from the backbenches until reality bites. Practically, the best route to change Britain is to change the party from within once again.
But, obviously, Corbyn won’t win.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist