Although I don’t consider myself to be much a political seer, I did eventually manage to predict the result of the Brexit referendum in June. It took me until the final week to be confident enough to express my view publicly that Leave was going to win, but at that point, I was pretty certain of it.
I also pointed out that a close vote would be the worst possible scenario. If Remain had scraped home, that would have caused political upset enough. But the relatively narrow victory for Leave was the absolute nightmare to end all nightmares.
Look at the turmoil it has already caused.
The replacement of a Prime Minister. A coup against the Leader of the Opposition. Millions signing petitions to get the result reversed. And the true economic and political consequences yet to unfold.
In political scenarios where important decisions are agonisingly close, there is little chance of catharsis. The victors are delighted, but still vulnerable. The losers are aggrieved and find acceptance difficult.
So let me make another prediction. It’s a little early, which means I’m putting some heavy caveats on it. A couple of important court cases are looming, which may change the dynamic of the Labour leadership contest. But the way things stand at the moment, I think it is going to be close.
If we assume that Corbyn is allowed by the High Court to continue on the ballot without seeking nominations - and that Labour is allowed to keep the rules agreed by its ruling National Executive Committee about who can vote – then I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it ends up on a knife-edge with no one really knowing for sure who is going to prevail.
Smith winning narrowly is a pretty scary scenario.
The Corbynistas will claim that it was a stitch-up. They will be decrying the plotters and their tactics, while pointing to the influence of what they describe pejoratively as the ‘mainstream media’. Because of their conspiratorial nature, they will probably assume that there is foul play orchestrated by the security services.
Of course, the most likely option would be for them to quit at that stage and form their own party. There’s a pretty good chance of that happening, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on it.
Although they’ve hugely devalued the Labour brand over the past year, the Momentum movement has fought hard for control and will be reluctant to relinquish it.
Perhaps supporters will be content to hold Owen Smith to the outlandish hotch-potch of leftist policies he has espoused during the contest, while maintaining their organisational presence in constituencies? Corbyn has been promised some kind of presidential role and there would be no question that Smith would also have to offer Shadow Cabinet places to the defeated extremists.
But let’s consider an even worse turn of events.
What if Jeremy Corbyn wins narrowly?
I think even his most ardent fans feel that it’s unlikely he’ll end up as far ahead as he did in 2015. But let’s imagine a scenario where he beat Smith by, say, as little as 51 to 49.
All hell would break lose at that point.
The Corbynistas would be in full, unbearable cry, despite the narrowness of the victory. The coup has been crushed! People have rallied to the defence of JC and shown just how popular he is!
Challenges would be issued straight away. Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party must declare their loyalty to the court Jezster immediately or face deselection.
At that stage, the logical decision for the sensible parliamentarians would be to split away and form their own centre-left party – at least in the House of Commons, if not the country. But once again, I wouldn’t necessarily count on it.
If the vote had gone decisively for Corbyn, walking away might seem a lot easier. But a close vote gives people false hope. It says that maybe next time, we can do it. If only we stick in there, maybe things will work out for the best in the long run.
What do we know about the PLP’s behaviour over the last year?
Far too many people – even quite serious politicians – were actually prepared to serve in Corbyn’s joke shadow cabinet. This gave a credibility to the man that he really never deserved.
They missed a number of opportunities to mount a coup against the Leader – most notably at the beginning of the year and again after the disastrous council elections in May. And when they finally did decide to act (through exasperation at Jez’s pathetic performance in the EU referendum), they couldn’t decide on who they wanted to stand against him.
Rather than face down the membership (which becomes more unrepresentative of the wider electorate with every passing week), might they choose a quiet life? Is there a danger that they could agree to serve once more under a leader who manages to give Michael Foot the professional veneer of a spin doctor’s mannequin?
I think the danger is real. I worry that when the time comes, many will look to appease their constituency parties and still cling to the idea that the most important objective is for Labour to stay together.
If they do, this is a party facing absolute electoral oblivion.
Who will be able to challenge Corbyn’s policy agenda?
Certainly not Owen Smith, who seems to have embraced pretty much every socialist scheme of his opponent, bar the elimination of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.
Theresa May might recognise a perfect opportunity for a general election. And, believe me, the nadir of 1983 would quickly be replaced in Labour folklore.