A Jeremy Corbyn victory in the Labour leadership race now seems like a racing certainty. The consequences of this for Labour have been much discussed but in the magazine this week, I look at what it would mean for the Tories.
The first, and most obvious, thing to say is that it would make 2020 the Tories’ election to lose — and they would have to make an epoch defining mistake to do so. But some Tories are worried about the prospect of a Corbyn victory. This isn’t just because they fear that bad opposition leads to bad government. But because they fret that Cameron and Osborne’s response to it will be to tack hard to the centre to try and pick up those voters disillusioned by Labour’s lurch to the left. Much of this work is already under way, think of the national living wage and gender pay audits, but the pace of it will intensify if Corbyn wins. Now, in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher used an unelectable Labour party to push through changes that would not have been politically possible in normal times. But Cameron and Osborne are far more traditional Tories than her and their instinct will be to use this moment to cement the party’s electoral advantage.
A Corbyn triumph will also have a knock on effect on the Tories’ own leadership contest, which we can probably expect in 2018. If Corbyn wins, then any sensible Tory should be able to beat Labour in 2020. In these circumstances, the Tories won’t need to feel the need to take a risk with Boris Johnson and will instead back George Osborne, the continuity candidate. As one Cabinet Minister observed to me earlier this week, ‘it is George’s to lose now.’