A Jeremy Corbyn victory was once a hilarious joke but now it seems possible, even likely according to some. If the Labour party wakes up on September 13 and the bearded leftie is its new leader, what happens next? There are three likely scenarios. Following Corbyn’s victory, the assumption is that he would attempt to put together a shadow cabinet and Labour would carry on as Her Majesty’s opposition. This will not be an easy task, as many in the Labour MPs have already said they would refuse to serve under him.
The first scenario is one where Corbyn manages to put together a team and makes it through the first few turbulent months of taking Labour leftwards. This could hold together for 18 months to two years, after which the party would come to its senses and eject Corbyn in an IDS-style coup. This could follow the EU referendum, where Corbyn is likely to lead Labour to back the ‘No’ campaign, or after David Cameron steps down and his successor looks likely to win the next election.
If Corbyn does win the leadership, this is the most likely situation because it will allow moderate voices to bide their time and show what happens to Labour when it takes the ‘comfort blanket’ approach. His successor could also use the opportunity to change the rules on joining the party and electing its leader to avoid this happening again.
The second scenario is one where Corbyn remains leader through to the 2020 election and Labour campaigns on its most left-wing platform since 1983. Corbyn would be uniformly rejected by voters and Labour would find itself completely broken — or Britain could become a socialist nation.
Labour in this situation would be unrecognisable from the party we know now – if it lasted. Its internal divisions could see it break in two, with the moderates flocking elsewhere. This could trigger a grand realignment of British politics (as Tim Montgomerie of the Times has advocated), or it could ensure the Tories remain in power for years and years to come.
The third scenario is a much-touted one at present: Corbyn would only last a few weeks before a coup by Labour MPs with another leadership election following soon after. The idea behind this is that the Labour left would have had its moment, the leadership would have learnt its lesson not to be too centrist and a more moderate leader could be installed, taking note of Corbyn’s fanbase and their concerns.
The problem with this scenario is that Corbyn would have just won a legitimate leadership contest and the relationship between the grassroots and the Labour leadership would sink to new depths. There would also be no time to reform the rules on membership or internal elections, nor enough time for moderates to prove that the hard left can’t win elections. Plus, what would stop Corbyn being elected for a second time?
All of these scenarios have one thing in common: the Labour party’s reputation would be significantly damaged and it would be out of power for many years to come. The idea that the Corbyn experiment could be discounted and another leader installed straight away is particularly damaging in this current contest.
With the first postal votes being sent out on August 12 and the letters hitting doormats a few days later, a good chunk of the Labour party will have decided how to vote by this time next month. The Anyone But Corbyn candidates need to remember this and convince the party’s membership right now that Corbyn would be a catastrophic leader. Waiting until the end of August or early September to panic is too late.