Running through the summer like the writing in a stick of rock was the continually disappointing and dismal performance of Owen Smith in the Labour leadership contest, and Jeremy Corbyn’s spectacular ability to make party members love him more by confecting his own rows about trains and women going out for drinks. The post-match analysis in the Labour moderate camp has already begun, with few bothering to make any greater defence of the Smith campaign than ‘it might be a bit closer than the polls suggest’.
Those who were sceptical about Smith’s ability to defeat Corbyn or - even though this leadership contest has included scant reference to this rather more important challenge - win a general election now say that at least a miserable loss would prove that a soft left Corbyn-lite pitch just won’t work. They have bitten their tongues during this contest as Smith managed to out-Corbyn Corbyn on issues such as negotiations with Isis, but feel that his blunders have at least tested to destruction the idea that you can win a contest by telling members that you’re just like Corbyn on everything except competence.
Another very sad thing the moderates say to themselves to try to cheer up is that at least they will continue to be stuck with Corbyn as Labour leader rather than another member of his clan. One key figure says ‘Corbyn is the last of the Hard Left leaders, so unless John McDonnell gets his rule change to make it a 5 per cent threshold to get on the ballot paper, then we know that it can only be Jeremy who can get elected.’ What a miserable position the party is now in that this is the most the challengers to Corbyn can muster to comfort themselves.
Both of these silver linings are rather grey and tarnished. But what they do point to is that the Labour moderates are thinking ahead to another leadership contest. They are not planning to comply with the suggestion from Ed Balls at the weekend that Labour moderates return to the frontbenches after the leadership contest, and neither are they planning to bow their heads in quiet submission to Corbyn. ‘We’re not going anywhere. People aren’t just going to go away after this and resign themselves to servitude,’ says one. It’s just that they’ll go under the radar for a while, again, as even Corbyn’s most ardent critics accept that to launch another challenge straight after a leadership contest wouldn’t work. They won't want to wait for too long, though: they just need enough evidence that the Labour leader isn't creating compelling policies that a united party can sell.
So it seems that what we are heading for now is an annual Labour leadership contest, perhaps one that runs through every summer with yet another candidate against the Labour leader trying a new clever strategy to win over members, who are growing steadily more furious with the parliamentary Labour party. Many of those who tell the Smith campaign that they are going to vote for the challenger say that they blame the PLP for this, not Corbyn himself. The chasm will open still further between the membership and the MPs, and revenge attempts at deselections will likely ensue.
Indeed, these deselections are the most likely method by which a Labour split will occur. There seems to be little serious talk in the party of a formal split, but a series of Labour MPs being thrown out of their local parties will slowly create an independent Labour party on the green benches in Parliament. How strong that is as a force depends on how successful Corbynite members really are at mounting deselection attempts in their local parties.