After the referendum, Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour was ‘very, very ready’ to contest a general election. Which is good news, because that’s precisely the task he now faces. In the world of Corbyn’s most ardent supporters, the snap election has been greeted with something like glee. Their greatest fear – that Corbyn may not survive in the leadership long enough to face the public at large – has been alleviated. Momentum’s Michael Chessum tweeted that there ‘absolutely is a path to victory for Labour… We’ll have to be bold, but it’s there’, while Paul Mason said that ‘a progressive alliance can beat the Tory hard Brexit plan’.
That jubilation on the hard left is typical of the movement’s resilience. Momentum and the Corbynistas are sufficiently blinkered from the realities of parliamentary democracy that they do not see a House of Commons catastrophe as the endgame of their movement, but as a relatively logical progression from their status as marginalised subjects. The Labour party has been occupied by activists who see losing as honourable, rather than the calamity it would prove to be.
As such, Theresa May staking her campaign on the weakness of Labour’s opposition is deeply disingenuous. On her first trip to the election lectern, May hammered home the line about Corbyn’s unpopularity. Just as in 2015, when the Lynton Crosby-manufactured campaign beat voters around the head with Labour’s economic record and the threat of coalition with the SNP, Theresa May is going to make this campaign about the contrast between her ‘strong and stable leadership’ and the ‘weak and unstable’ choice offered by Corbyn. She knows that voters don’t see him as a viable choice for Prime Minister, and she is right (in party political terms) to try to exploit that. But she is wrong to suggest to voters that election defeat would result in a different, stronger or more professional opposition.
It leaves Jeremy Corbyn with an unenviable choice. The boldest move available to him would be to resign in favour of a unity candidate, and try and bring the Parliamentary Labour Party together in advance of June’s election. But with Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop taking all of three minutes to announce that he wouldn’t be restanding for election, it doesn’t seem like there’s much hope for unity within the party. So the Corbyn/McDonnell axis will beat on, against the current, towards an election where Ladbrokes are already pricing the Tories as 1/10 favourites.
Beyond June, there is a feeling that even a landslide defeat wouldn’t kill the Corbyn movement. The hard left know that Corbyn must cling on until the McDonnell Amendment – which would reduce the benchmark of support within the PLP for a candidate to stand for the leadership – passes. But given the difficulties the Corbyn camp have had in passing it, a crushing defeat, combined with the resignations of centrist MPs, could actually consolidate power for a movement that is led by Corbyn, but not exclusively bound to him. If a hard left candidate stands in a post-landslide leadership contest, they will all but certainly win, and the Labour party’s regeneration will fall at the first hurdle.
May is equally guilty of the ‘political game playing’ that she has accused the opposition parties of. This election is about cementing Conservative control, not about national stability across the Commons. And with Labour unlikely to break from the self-replicating insurgency of the hard left, do not expect to be bidding Jeremy Corbyn farewell on June 9th.