Smug Tories should be careful what they wish for
Labour’s tournament felt like a game of Snap when the four players at the table would slap down policies at an endless round of hustings, but now it’s high-stakes Pontoon time.
The party’s 400,000 selectorate, an incredible half of whom signed up for a vote since May’s crushing election defeat, must decide whether to Stick with Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper or Twist with Jeremy Corbyn or Liz Kendall.
Burnham-Cooper would be the safer option, neither likely to bust the party and both much less of a risk than gambling on Corbyn from the party’s Left or Kendall on the Right.
Supporters of Burnham and Cooper hail their candidate as the sensible bet, poker-faced and never reckless, valuing a sweaty win over glorious defeat.
Backers of Corbyn and Kendall dismiss these two rivals as cautious losers, calculating only their champion possesses the iron nerve to be bold enough to scoop an election jackpot - though there’s no political love lost between Corbyn and Kendall, each believing the other would lose Labour its shirt.
The row over Corbyn’s non-call to drive Labour back to the Austin Allegro and British Leyland by restoring Clause IV and slick campaign videos - Burnham playing Cameron happy families, Kendall offering a Blairite message in a John Lewis advert - blend traditional dirty politics with a modern setting.
And those smug Tories laughing up their sleeves at the emergence of Corbyn as a frontrunner should be careful what they wish for.
Standards in public life are in the gutter when Tory activists, councillors and at least one MP, Tim Loughton, a juvenile former children’s minister, are prepared to assert falsely that they “support the aims and values of the Labour Party” and are “not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it” to make an unwitting £3 donation when they’re rumbled as registered supporters.
I suppose after the Tories misled voters at the general election with a manifesto that could be filed on the fiction shelf, impersonation is an obvious principle-free option for Conservatives without scruples.
If Corbyn wins they might be laughing on the other side of their face by creating what they fear most: a left-winger popularising fairness, decency, respect, public ownership, stronger trade unions, higher taxes on the richest and a redistribution of wealth.
Sticking to old route maps on volatile new political territory might backfire badly on smirking Tories.
What if the new face of British democracy turns out to be a bearded pensioner who taps into public discontent with smoothie-chops PR politicians by giving direct answers to straight questions?
What if his promotion of the underdog touches a nerve with the millions of powerless who recognise the blue bloods will never represent the blue collar?
What if working Britons tire of waiting for higher living standards, despairing at the decay of public services?
What if the economy tanks, the Tories descend into Civil War over Europe or a Bullingdon War when George Osborne and Boris Johnson bite. scratch and gouge to inherit David Cameron’s suit of state?
None of that might happen, of course. The wheels could spin off Corbyn’s bandwagon in the Labour ballot. Labour could be the party plunged into turmoil.
But the Tories, and Corbyn’s enemy within Labour, are wrong to assume he’s another Michael Foot. Not just because hairshirt Corbyn would never wear an expensive Harrods car coat at the Cenotaph, the Knightsbridge store’s label clearly visible on Footie’s infamous “duffle coat” in Manchester’s People’s History Museum.
Corbyn’s his own man. The future is uncertain. Defeat isn't inevitable, victory a possibility.
Conservatives betting their £3s on his winning the Labour leadership could lose their party at the election. They’d be the biggest Tory mugs since chicken Conservative MPs quit before May in marginal seats the party retained in a fluky result.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror