Why Jeremy Corbyn will do better than you expect
As expected, Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour party. If you've been reading the press recently, you'll know this is the start of the total annihilation of the Labour party. Internal opposition to his leadership from the party's MPs will tear it apart. And if it somehow limps to the election with a hard-left programme, it will be destroyed at the ballot box. But things might not be that simple.
Firstly, today's overwhelming result will dampen any Labour effort to oust Corbyn in the short term. His mandate is simply too strong. He won in all three constituencies – members, trade unions and £3 supporters. He didn't just beat the 50% threshold on first preference votes, he trampled all over it. Corbyn won 59% support on a 76.3% turnout. The only negative was that he didn't win first preference votes in the first stage among members –but it was 49%, so one imagines he'll live with it.
Corbyn quickly reached out across the party. He had clearly spoken with Ed Miliband on Thursday and invited him to be environment secretary (he turned it down). He seemed to be opening his door to figures like Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper (who also turned it down). He spoke endlessly of unity, as did the new deputy leader, Tom Watson. Are the Labour old guard happy? Plainly not. But it must be clear that with a mandate like that they can't get rid of Corbyn within the next two years at least. Sure, the more vociferously anti-Corbyn figures, like Rachel Reeves or Jamie Reed, have already ruled themselves out. But more considered ideological opponents are likely to help in some capacity, or at least not attempt an immediate overthrow.
The press and Tory onslaught, however, will be instantaneous. They want to define him early. The Tory statement, from defence secretary Michael Fallon, is telling:
"Labour are now a serious risk to our nation's security, our economy's security and your family's security. Whether it's weakening our defences, raising taxes on jobs and earnings, racking up more debt and welfare or driving up the cost of living by printing money – Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party will hurt working people. This is a very serious moment for our country – the Conservatives will continue to deliver stability, security and opportunity for working people."
That's the message – terrify people about Corbyn as a threat to security and the economy. It's possible that pre-emptive strike will work. It did against Miliband. The image of him being a weirdo who stabbed his brother in the back bedded in early and was still being raised with him during the election campaign five years later. We will know by Christmas whether it has been effective against Corbyn.
The attack will be mighty. It comes from the government and almost all the press. They will hammer him. But Corbyn has one major quality on his side. The public hate politicians. They yearn to see normal people, who speak in plain language, take on the Westminster elite. Corbyn will give them that in spades, as Nigel Farage did before him on the right.
The period between now and 2020 is not, for the public, a political moment. It is effectively a soap opera, defined by broad brush stroke assessments of personality and occasionally sudden cut-throughs on policy. In this soap opera, Corbyn is the man of the people taking on the establishment. It's likely that this will win him considerable support.
Will that last during the election campaign? Almost certainly not. A couple of months before the election, what is soap opera will turn into politics again, and it's likely Corbyn's politics and economics will spook England. It remains almost impossible to see him winning a general election.
But that's years away. If Corbyn is sensible, he will do what political analyst Sunder Katwala suggests and table some sort of leadership mechanism process for 2018 – whether it's a date to stand down or a set process for Labour to vote on his leadership. That could control the possible rebellions by putting an event in the diary where they can be legitimately expressed and acted on. Given Corbyn had to be persuaded to stand, it may prove an attractive idea to him.
In the meantime, he is likely to win far more early victories than you'd expect if you read the press. Next year will see local, Scottish and London mayoral elections. Labour can expect to do better in Scotland under a leader willing to challenge austerity and Westminster – the two targets of the SNP in their previous election victories. And in London, Sadiq Khan is expected to trump likely Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith (although it will not be an easy fight). The anti-Westminster soap opera drama could help Corbyn do far better in the local elections than pundits predict.
Corbyn will also be a much tougher opponent of the government than many commentators expect. At the despatch box, his no-nonsense style and plain speaking could prove attractive next to David Cameron. His willing, open-armed embrace of his values means the prime minister will struggle to manoeuvre him into a rhetorical corner on issues like taxation, trade unions and welfare.
Many commentators insist the Tories will be jubilant at Corbyn's victory. That may not make as much sense as they think. After all, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper were proven losers. They could easily be defined as old Blair/Brown troops who crashed the economy. Liz Kendal showed during the campaign that she did not have the tactical ingenuity or charm to succeed. She would have struggled against the far more experienced Cameron.
Corbyn, on the other hand has thousands of weak spots – from his talks alongside members of Hamas, to his views on Nato. But he is, above all, a wild card. Politics is like the markets – it hates uncertainty. Corbyn ushers in an unpredictable moment for British politics. It’s likely that, out of four people who looked like they would lose an election, the Tories would have rather faced one which was a known quantity.
There is an awful lot of certainty swirling around the TV stations, newspapers and Westminster conversations. But we are now in a period of heightened uncertainty. Corbyn is likely to far exceed the low expectations imposed on him. Take what you read over the next few days with a hefty pinch of salt.