Kevin Maguire: The Corbynistas are the masters now
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are supremely confident - and they are prepared to play dirty.
The boot is on the other foot and soon it may be on the throats of Labour MPs who refuse to accept Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.
The vast bulk of the parliamentary party, from pretty hard left through soft left to centrist and trade union right and the small Blairite rump, are discovering how Corbyn and his chief lieutenant, John McDonnell, felt for years in Parliament as members of the small Socialist Campaign Group.
Usually shunned by the leader (though Ed Miliband was personally friendlier than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) and treated with contempt by the leader's office, the minority is treating the majority with the contempt the majority showed for the minority.
Corbyn and McDonnell – perhaps they should be known as CorDonnell when this reign is a duopoly – are supremely confident they'll win a second ballot of Labour members. And deselections, or a “cleansing” as one player in the Corbyn camp described it to me, will be threatened to encourager les autres to toe the line or risk the chop.
Jubilation among rebel Labour MPs on Tuesday evening at Angela Eagle dropping out to give Owen Smith a clear run against Corbyn was followed by what felt close to a wake on Wednesday night after news 184,000 registered supporters had paid £25 each, a figure subsequently reduced to a still considerable 140,000 after duplications and the overtly hostile were stripped out, to buy a vote in the leadership race.
The Owenites agree with the Corbynistas the bulk are likely to back Brother Jezza so compensate for anecdotal evidence of a drop, admittedly difficult to measure accurately if indeed it is a genuine fall at all, in enthusiasm for the existing leader among party members.
I've met Labour members who won't vote for Corbyn again but none who are converts to the cause after casting an ill-fated ballot last time round for Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper of Liz Kendall when the bearded one swept to high office.
Predicting the result is of course a mug's game two months out and Smith's outwardly confident, touchingly optimistic, he'll change minds in meetings and hustings.
His opponents learned from the Brexit brigade that lies and smears produce results, so when Smith hopes to be setting out his pro-prosperity, anti-austerity stall, he'll be forced to defend himself from false accusations he favours NHS privatisation or the unfair, ludicrous charge he's Blair-lite.
McDonnell labelling Labour plotters “fucking useless” was accurate if not the promised kinder politics, just as assaults on Smith aren't straight talking honest politics.
The team in the leader's office doesn't feel obliged to fight by Queensberrry rules after the chaotic, incompetent coup attempt in Westminster to topple their man.
One former shadow cabinet member, who quit in despair at Corbyn's inability to lead in Parliament or appear a potential Prime Minister, stopped me the evening of the 184,000 surge was announced. “I'm ringing Corbyn tonight,” he laughed, “ to say 'Hello boss', I think there was a bit of a misunderstanding...”
He isn't alone in preparing to return should Smith fail and Corbyn win again. He'll be back not because he thinks Labour will win the election. This is about uniting not splitting, a belief the Cult of Corbyn needs testing to destruction at a general election.
Corbyn's channelling Hartley Shawcross, Clement Attlee's Attorney General, who declared: “We are the masters now.”
Corbyn isn't going quietly into the night. The old outsider is determined to remain the new insider and will fight, including dirty, to stay on top. No wonder Theresa May is smiling.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor(politics) of the Daily Mirror
Picture by: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images
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