by Atul Hatwal
Years from now, politics students will be told jokingly by their tutors about the time the Labour leader had to U-turn and admit that a suicide bomber, who was about to blow himself up, should in fact be shot by the police.
It will be a salutary tale of what happens when an individual characterized by extremes of incompetence and ideology, is put in charge of a political party.
Many MPs think that the madness cannot continue. That Corbyn will fall in the next six months, or at the latest, after poll disaster in next year’s regional and local elections.
Sadly, they are wrong.
Before Corbyn falls, three changes are needed, none of which are immediate: the soft left need to wake-up to what’s happening, new terms of trade are required within Labour’s internal debate and a viable alternative leader must emerge.
Westminster Standard Time and Greenwich Mean Time are wholly different concepts.
In the political bubble, new notions become conventional wisdom within two or three turns of a super-accelerated Twitter fueled news cycle.
But what might seem suddenly eye-rollingly obvious in Westminster has barely registered outside.
Doubts sown by Corbyn’s reaction to Paris will take time to grow. Electoral reverses next May will accelerate this process. But this is the start of a journey for Labour’s internal swing vote – the soft left – not the end.
If Labour’s leadership selectorate was as attuned to poll lessons as the more complacent MPs hope, Corbyn would never have been elected in the first place.
The bitter experience of the general election would have been sufficient.
The impossibility of Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral position will take two, or more likely, three years of defeats to convince soft left romantics that this story will only end in one way.
When Tony Blair was elected, Labour had been out of power for 15 years. The hunger, the desperation for power was palpable.
The importance of electability was not an argument that had to be made, it was an accepted fact.
Only when the importance of being in power is once again implicitly understood by the party, is substantive change possible.
On the road to this decision point, the non-Corbyn majority in the PLP and membership will need to shift the terms of debate within the party.
To achieve this, moderates must remember how to triangulate.
When an established consensus is to be changed, it takes a tag team of two groups.
One outrides, says the unsayable and acts as a lightning conductor for discontent. They are condemned, controversial and at the heart of the fight.
These are the shock troops, moving the Overton window – that narrow range of political ideas that are acceptable – by dragging the debate away from the comfortable consensus.
Think Peter Tatchell and Outrage on LGBT rights, Malcolm X in the civil rights struggle or more prosaically, the Maastricht rebels in the Tories 90’s civil war over Europe.
The second group is more consensual and tonally emollient. However, as conflict flares, this group moves incrementally into the space opened up by the first group’s assault.
They will be pained about disunity and the abrasive nature of the debate, but will acknowledge the need for a debate. They take the centre line between the old consensus and the new agitators.
Their role legitimises and fixes the shift in the Overton window.
Stonewall closed the deal made possible by Outrage. Martin Luther King was the acceptable representative of change when contrasted with Malcolm X. Michael Portillo, Peter Lilley and John Redwood – John Major’s “bastard” cabinet ministers – were able to shift the Tory consensus on Europe specifically because they were the centrists in the Tory debate.
The Labour left are no strangers to using this type of triangulation to change the party.
When the hard left tried to have Progress expelled it was a brutal and controversial assault on a group that had been scrupulously loyal.
Ed Miliband’s office’s equivocation and refusal to intervene, egged on by the hard left, shifted the nature of debate within Labour, legitimizing the move to delegitimize the right.
There have been some tentative attempts at triangulation by those trying to frame an alternative to Corbynism, but so far they haven’t worked.
A couple of weeks ago Liam Byrne gave an interesting speech on the party’s future. It was rich in policy content and most pertinently he located himself between the Corbyn left and the New Labour past.
The intent was clear but the triangulation wasn’t effective because New Labour is ancient history. It’s a fading, static idea.
True triangulation requires an active outrider to move the debate on from its current position.
In today’s context, this means those bold enough to voice what others whisper privately, need to remain connected and co-ordinated with the mainstream opponents of Corbyn.
It means the likes of Simon Danczuk need support and cannot be allowed to become politically isolated.
Whenever MPs like John Mann, Ian Austin and John Woodcock make the blunt case for sanity on policy issues, they deserve voices to be raised in support.
As conflicts erupt and then subside, Labour’s panoply of centrist groups such as Red Shift, Labour Together and Labour for the Common Good need to occupy the space created, whether on security, defence or the economy.
How effective these groups are at doing this will determine whether Labour’s ideological direction of travel can be reversed.
Time and triangulation will create the conditions for change from Corbyn but won’t be enough on their own.
The last piece of the puzzle is agreement on an anti-hard left candidate .
The lesson from the leadership campaign is that there needs to be a single alternative, one person who provides a sole media counter-point to the Corbynite candidate.
Jeremy Corbyn was partially able to generate such momentum because his opponents were so divided.
He always presented certitude and clarity. The others got lost in the noise of their own bickering. The media reports reflected this structural imbalance, helping amplify the Corbyn surge.
To unify, this candidate will need to be a relatively blank canvass.
They will not have been involved in the hand to hand combat required to change the debate within the party. They might not even be prominent in the mainstream groups that move Labour’s centre of gravity, slowly back towards the centre.
Their most prized asset will be to be a clean-skin, acceptable to the broadest span of Labour members and supporters, from soft left through to old right.
One of the most apposite comments about Tony Blair in 1994 was that he “emerged without trace”. Similar could be said of David Cameron in 2005 or even John Major in 1990.
Only when Labour moderates understand the need for these three changes – time, triangulation and a single candidate – will the grip of the hard left on the leadership be challenged.
Patience will be needed. There will be many more dark days.
But a path does exist to toppling Corbyn, if those who care about the party are prepared to take it.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut