Jeremy Corbyn’s critics may well be setting the Labour leader impossible challenges by demanding that the party wins 400 seats in this week’s local elections. But Corbyn himself isn’t exactly making things easier either, telling reporters today that his party won’t lose seats on Thursday. Independent experts such as Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher are predicting substantial net losses of around 150 seats, so unless Corbyn has better intelligence than these very reliable sources, he seems to be setting himself a challenge that he knows he will fail.
Why is the Labour leader doing this? The Rallings and Thrasher predictions, coupled with the very downbeat briefings that the party has been holding internally about this week’s results, have all contributed to an expectation that the party is going to do badly. Expectations like this are useful as then a bad result is priced in - and the timing of the results is such that Labour is at least likely to finish a miserable day with a victory in the London mayoral race. But Corbyn predicting no seat losses makes it much easier for his critics to say that he has failed.
The events of the past week in the Labour party have of course made it much easier for the leader’s critics in general. Some are using the anti-semitism row to undermine Corbyn, but many more of them are genuinely horrified at what appears to be growing numbers of anti-semitic incidents in the party and see the Labour leader’s response to the incidents of the past week as confirmation that he is unfit to run their party. Others recognise that Ken Livingstone’s outburst last week at least gives the moderate critics in the party a decent riposte to Corbynites who try to argue that a poor showing this week is down to all the MPs who complained about Corbyn in the weeks running up to polling day. But the mood in the party seems to be that there won’t be a coup attempt in the next couple of weeks, even if Labour does do disastrously. Instead, the row of the past week and poor results have weakened Corbyn in a way that makes it just a little bit easier for his enemies to make their case to Labour colleagues that he needs to go, when the time is right. And by saying that Labour is not going to lose seats, the party leader has made his own life just that little bit more difficult.