Amidst a predictably middling set of UK election results, only one faction emerged as clear losers – the substantial number of MPs, journalists and prominent Labour supporters who are implacably opposed to Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn is not going anywhere in the short-term. These results were as good as could have been expected, one year after a catastrophic General Election. Ever since, Labour and Corbyn have endured an appalling news cycle, dominated by division, turbulence and forecasts of electoral suicide.
The fact they are nowhere near on course to win the next election – a point repeated ad nauseum in BBC election coverage – is not all that significant, and not just because it is four years away. More pressing has been concern that the party might simply hollow out and decline, as in Scotland, accelerated by the rise of UKIP.
That hasn’t happened. Corbyn’s Labour has performed as well as Ed Miliband’s best set of local elections, along with winning mayoralties in London and Bristol. UKIP, as the last autumn’s Oldham by-election result suggested, have stalled, despite benefiting from Brexit coverage. It remains a ten year rebuilding job, but this represents a small step forward, not the disaster his enemies predicted.
To try and engineer a coup right now would be widely seen as illegitimate and almost certainly prove counter-productive. If Corbyn were to face a challenge, the membership that gave 60% support would back him again. There is no evidence that any of his leadership rivals or would-be replacements would have fared any better given the inheritance.
That doesn’t mean his fiercest critics will be silenced – their rift goes deep, on both personal and ideological grounds. The media are obsessed with the ‘Labour split’ narrative and it remains hard to imagine Corbyn surviving a full parliament without being challenged.
However those that continue to carp from the sidelines will alienate themselves further from the base, ruining their own ambitions and anyone they later endorse.
Two betting implications spring to mind. First, 2016 and 2017 make no appeal as Corbyn’s exit date at 4.0 and 4.5. I’m very happy that my bets on 2018 and 2019 will be easy to cover at a later date.
Secondly if that is the case, the search for his successor can be widened to relative newcomers who will have made their mark by the time the contest comes around. The next Labour leader market is wide-open, with the favourites trading around 8.0 (12.5%).
For now, I want to be against any of the candidates regarded, fairly or not, as backed by so-called Blairites/establishment/plotters. Their support, particularly from the Murdoch press, destroyed any slim hope Liz Kendall had last year. The media hype made her the second favourite, yet she finished last on just 4%.
Candidates that fit that bill include favourite Dan Jarvis, Hilary Benn, Owen Smith and the ridiculously priced 23.0 chance David Miliband. Instead, I want mainstream candidates that can unite the party. That, I believe, would be beyond Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who many shrewd judges regard as best placed to takeover and must rate one of the main contenders.
McDonnell is no less, perhaps more, toxic among Labour MPs and no closer to median public opinion than Corbyn and we shouldn’t assume the membership will inevitably want another hard-left leader. That wasn’t why he won. Corbyn won due to his authenticity, a desire to move on from the New Labour years and three sub-standard rivals that were intrinsically linked to the ancien regime.
Because Corbyn’s refreshingly different campaign inspired hundreds of thousands of people to sign up and back him, it doesn’t automatically follow that they would do so for his longstanding comrade John McDonnell. The dynamics of the next race will be different.
One man is perfectly positioned to be next leader – if he wants it. Tom Watson is immensely popular amongst Labour-minded people, particularly since taking on Rupert Murdoch, and strongly engaged with social media. He is not an ideological soulmate with Corbyn, but has repeatedly stressed the need for unity since beginning his deputy leadership bid. That sort of loyalty will be rewarded.
I’m not wholly convinced Watson wants the job. He’s previously ruled it out and could end up playing kingmaker. However these things can always change and, for the foreseeable future, he is the standout obvious unity candidate. I doubt 10/1 will be around for long.
Looking longer-term, I reckon by the time this race actually takes place, 29.0 will look a massive price about Stephen Kinnock. Only an MP since last May, the son of former leader Neil left a high-flying career at international institutions to pursue his political career. He’s married to former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and has not come to Westminster to sit on the back benches forever. He’s impressed me on TV and in taking a central role pursuing solutions to the crisis in the UK steel industry.
Back Tom Watson to be Next Labour Leader 5 units @ 11.0
Back Stephen Kinnock to be Next Labour Leader 5 units @ 29.0