Not even Owen Smith is pretending that he’ll defeat Jeremy Corbyn when the leadership election results are announced this weekend. Tom Watson, Corbyn’s deputy, has told Today that it’s time for healing, time to ‘put the band back together’. The band contains Corbynite 70s metal, McClusky backing vocals and Watson indie trash – not a sound that many voters find appealing. But Watson wants to sound supportive of its lead singer. In his interview with Today he said he’d be happy for Smith to fail and added that Corbyn would make a very good prime minister – with an important caveat:
‘I think Jeremy could easily be a Labour prime minister, I think we’ve got to change what we do, how we campaign. I think we’ve got to change how we do our policies and make sure we prioritise other policy areas….’
Watson, like most Labour MPs, wants the shadow cabinet to be elected by MPs – Corbyn wants his party members to vote, something that would almost certainly mean the shadow cabinet is flooded with Corbyn allies. So Watson’s task on Today was to say why Corbyn’s plan is wrong. For one thing, he said, it’ll cost too much (a ‘third of a million quid’ each time, by Watson’s reckoning). In a dig at what’s left of the current front bench, he also said it was vital the electoral process ensured the party had the ‘best’ shadow cabinet rather than any old shadow cabinet – ie, one chosen by the new Corbynite Labour members.
A few months ago, Watson and his fellow MPs thought Corbyn was the anomaly. That if he was dislodged, the natural balance of the Labour Party would be restored. Now it’s clear that there are tens of thousands of Corbynites who now hold party membership cards and are itching to use them. Labour MPs are starting to ask if they are the anomaly. And an anomaly that the new far-left members will seek to correct when Westminster boundaries are redrawn and MPs are selected. The leadership race will soon be over but it could well be that Labour’s internal battle is just beginning.