I’ve been arguing since June that it is at least possible that Theresa May could remain in office longer than the Westminster village consensus dictated, so I’m not too surprised by her statement of intent in Japan. Besides, what else could she say?
Like most people, I still don’t expect her to fight the next election, but if she does manage the sort of transformative dogged resurrection I wrote about in June, it could just be possible. For now though, what will hold her in place will be not so much her own talents (whatever they may be) but her party’s fear of confronting the huge and possibly existential questions that will come with the choice of a new leader.
But while we are pondering on future leadership issues, here is another question that should be asked: Will Jeremy Corbyn lead Labour into the next general election?
Mr Corbyn became a leader in 2015. Assuming the next general election is in 2022, he would have been in his post for seven years by then, and a member of Parliament for almost 40 years – he entered the concert in 1983. He would also be 73 years old. In other words, the man that Labour would quite seriously be proposing to the British people as the Prime Minister and a new broom in No 10 would someone who had been around the political scene for a very long time.
Let’s say the Conservatives limp and stagger on in office until 2022 and Mr Corbyn remains leader at that year’s general election. He would inevitably be asked if he would serve a full five year term as PM in the event of a Labour victory. Would he have the energy and drive to do an all-consuming, 18-hour day job until close to his 80th birthday? I reckon he probably would: after all, his entire life has been dedicated to politics and political graft – (though there is a difference between giving town hall speeches and actually governing). He doesn’t seem the type to retire to tend his allotment.
The real questions are whether the British public would have grown weary of Mr Corbyn by then, and whether he and his allies (and his wider party) would feel it better to pass the torch to someone newer and fresher. My suspicion is that a large part of a country whose attention-span has been truncated by Facebook and Twitter would want something new from Labour by then. So Theresa May probably won’t fight the next general election. But will Jeremy Corbyn? The question should be asked more often.