If the bookmakers and pollsters are to be believed, there is little doubt that Jeremy Corbyn will be crowned Labour leader on Saturday. Westminster is therefore wondering: what happens next? I’ve written a piece for POLITICO Europe today looking at the personal and policy battles ahead if Corbyn is the new opposition leader. Instead of treating him as a joke, it seems the Tories would take Corbyn seriously and use the bucketloads of research they have built up over the summer to undermine and destroy him.
While Conservative HQ and Downing Street are not revealing too much about their plans if Corbyn wins, insiders suggest that their core message of ‘Labour hasn’t changed’ would be continued. Repeating the same message from the Ed Miliband years, Tories will argue that Labour is no longer the party of working people and Corbyn means more debt and more taxes. There would be a new addition to the Tory vocabulary: ‘security’. The government would argue that he poses a significant risk to Britain’s economic and national security and therefore can’t be trusted. ‘It’s deadly serious,’ as one Downing Street source puts it.
The EU referendum is looking to be one policy area in particular where Cameron and Corbyn will clash. Corbyn is the most Eurosceptic of the four leadership candidates — Burnham, Cooper and Kendall are avowed Europhiles — and has raised concerns about the EU’s future during the final televised debate. Although some of his trade union comrades, such as Unite the union’s Len McCluskey, are flirting with the idea of backing the ‘Leave’ campaign, Team Corbyn are insisting they would be in it to win it.
I understand that if Corbyn is elected leader, one of his first tasks will be to give Labour a clear view on what the negotiations should bring back and do his utmost to ensure its voice is heard in the EU debate. On matters Corbyn considers important, such as the social chapter, he would play ‘hardball’ with the government and look to work closely with Alan Johnson, who is running Labour’s campaign to remain in the EU.
Although it appears to be a fait accompli that Corbyn will be leader of his party by this time next week, it’s worth remembering there are many unknowns about how this contest is run — who exactly makes up the selectorate, how the one member/one vote system will pan out and who is voting for whom in the final few days. But the tens of thousands of new members all suggest that a Corbyn victory is inevitable. Give this, it’s hard to find anyone in Labour who will strongly argue that the party isn’t staring down the barrel at a hard-left victory.