The Eagle has been circling, but hasn’t yet swooped on its prey. A strange phoney war has developed over the past week, following the spectacular move against Jeremy Corbyn by the Parliamentary Labour Party.
To the embattled Labour Leader’s supporters, such as union backer Len McCluskey, this interregnum provides evidence of the coup’s failure.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
The strategy so far has clearly been to force Corbyn into a resignation. When the Feds surround the compound of weird religious sect, they obviously give the ringleader the opportunity to come quietly. But after repeated warnings and the deployment of skilled negotiators, patience starts to wear a little thin.
My guess is that the announcement of the challenge is imminent and will pre-empt the release of the Chilcot Report.
While there’s an argument for letting Corbyn embarrass himself on Wednesday before proceeding with the contest, my gut instinct tells me the PLP will prefer him to be a leadership candidate rather than a Leader when the long-awaited commentary on the Iraq War finally makes it into the public domain.
There is no question in my mind that condemning Blair for the 2003 conflict – and probably demanding the former Prime Minister’s extradition to the Hague – is a precious goal of Corbyn and his comrades. These are people who, bizarre as it may seem, probably hate New Labour more than they hate the Tories.
Owen Smith, until a few days ago the Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, has been trying to stake his own claim to the mantle of challenger. His supporters say that his left-wing credentials mean that he can peel away weak Corbyn voters, who admire the current Leader’s political purism but despair of his incompetence.
Angela Eagle, on the other hand, is seen as being more centrist. She supported airstrikes on Syria at the end of last year, for instance, heeding the rallying cry of her colleague Hilary Benn, who made a powerful case for internationalism and intervention.
The reality is that neither is likely to beat Corbyn, who still has fairly strong support among long-standing members and absolute support among the army of so-called ‘three-quidders’ who signed up specifically to vote for him. (The extent to which very recent joiners are pro or anti Corbyn is much debated, although my hunch is that once again the majority are signing up to the support the beleaguered leftist.)
So why proceed with a contest which is likely to be lost? Quite simply, because the status quo is utterly unacceptable and will lead to electoral oblivion.
Particularly since the Brexit vote, it has become apparent that Labour is in danger of haemorrhaging support in its heartlands.
Corbyn is categorically incapable of reaching out to these voters, who are attracted by the rhetoric of UKIP.
Well, he epitomises metropolitan political correctness, argues that immigration shouldn’t be a concern, champions the status quo over welfare and is seen as weak on defence.
In a sense it doesn’t matter whether he’s right or wrong on these specific points – my own verdict is mixed – but he does not have the language or the insight to connect with people who disagree with him. Corbyn is never happier than when preaching to the converted.
Any new Labour Leader will, of course, find that they are facing the same fast-moving social, political and economic currents as Corbyn. The turmoil of the vote to leave the EU will shape British and European political life for the foreseeable future.
Would anyone be able to turn the ship around? Maybe not. But to stick with Corbyn means certain political annihilation.
This dictates there is no choice but to go ahead with the challenge and the vote, regardless of the outcome. If Corbyn wins again, the Labour Party will split in two and we could be facing another decade of Tory government.
Only Jeremy himself can pull us back from the brink. If he had even a fraction of the commitment to
Labour that he claims, that’s what he will do. But let’s not hold our breath. I fear that we shall soon hear the flapping of the Eagle’s wings.