For Labour party members
When it looked like Jeremy Corbyn might win the 2015 leadership election, I was asked to both endorse and condemn. I did neither. I criticised one of his proposed policies, but I was also highly critical of the way Labour had been run over the previous 5 years. It was a superficial focus group style of policy making that led to decisions like not defending the Labour government's fiscal record, which ultimately was an important part of the general election defeat.
For a Corbyn led Labour party to work, the new leadership had to bring on board the majority of its MPs. There would always be a minority - I called them the anti-Corbynistas - who would oppose Corbyn come what may, but it is a gross error to imagine all the MPs who did not vote for Corbyn were of this type. Some were prepared to work with him, and some were content to remain on the sidelines, pursuing their own particular interests.
I think many in the new leadership understood this, and attempted to involve MPs in key decisions. One successful example which I was involved in was the adoption of a new fiscal rule which would have avoided both 2010 and 2015 austerity. But ultimately this process failed. The rock that sank this ship was the Brexit vote: whether it could have succeeded otherwise is for another day.
There is a degree of unity between the Corbynistas and the anti-Corbynistas about the vote of no confidence: both agree that it was inevitable. But to concede this means that you think the Corbyn project was about remodelling the party over the long term, rather than trying to win the 2020 or 2025 elections. I do not believe most Labour party members would endorse such a project.
If this is true, then what these members need to resolve is whether it would be possible for Corbyn to successfully lead the party in 2020. One posibility after a 2016 Corbyn's victory is that those who expressed no confidence accept the verdict of members and start cooperating with the leadership. This is the possibility discussed here by Steve Richards, but it seems close to wishful thinking. The trust that is required to make that happen has disappeared. Again we can debate at length whose fault that is, but that debate should have no impact on how people vote. What is done is done.
What seems totally clear to me is that given recent events a Corbyn led party cannot win in 2020, or even come close. I was highly critical of the anti-Corbynistas who wanted to argue that their antics were having no impact on public opinion, so it would be absurd for me to pretend that people would elect to power a Labour party that had voted no confidence in its leader.
This has to be the bedrock on which voting decisions in the coming leadership contest should be based. Once you accept it, then various things follow almost automatically if Corbyn were to win again. One is that the likelihood of a split is strong. History tells us that it takes only a few to make this happen, and if a few think they will lose their seats anyway they have nothing to lose. Even if no split occurred, the constituency wanting to vote for a committed pro-European party of the centre-left is likely to remain strong while the Brexit negotiations continue. History also tells us that a divided left in a FPTP system cannot succeed, a fact that is built into the DNA of the Conservatives.
Another consequence of a bad defeat in 2020 is that the left within Labour will again lose its influence for a generation. Defeat and a divided party will not be the springboard on which a successor to Corbyn, such as those mentioned by Justin Lewis here, can win. Ironically their chances if Owen Smith wins in 2016, then reverts to the pre-2015 strategy and fails are much better. Keeping Corbyn until 2020 simply delays the date of his departure, with nothing achieved and much lost in the meantime.
The concern that most party members about Owen Smith is that, once elected, he will slip back into the disastrous form of right wing appeasement that led to Corbyn's election last year. Smith's support for Trident adds credence to that view. But there are important reasons why this may not happen.
The political landscape after the Brexit vote has changed substantially. May's cabinet appointments effectively put the Brexit side in charge of negotiations. That might be clever politics by May as far as her position in the Conservative party is concerned, but it is bad for the UK. Smith can provide a convincing pro-Europe opposition to that, which has to include headlining the benefits of immigration. This position will be supported by most of UK business, which cannot trust the Brixiters with looking after its interests. Labour will no longer feel tempted to temper policies to avoid offending 'business leaders'.
The other main area, besides immigration, where past Labour appeasement was so damaging was austerity. As I argued in the New Statesman, 2015 austerity - cutting public investment when interest rates are very low - has now been disowned by senior Conservatives. 2010 austerity - fiscal contraction rather than expansion in a recession where interest rates are at their lower bound - may still happen in a Brexit based recession. In these circumstances it is difficult to imagine that Smith would endorse this austerity, but he could confirm this by commiting to follow John McDonnell's fiscal credibility rule.
Those who voted for Corbyn only a year ago will naturally ask why they should, only a year later, change their minds. One important point is that the 2015 vote itself changed things: any leadership now knows it ignores its membership at its peril. But in addition the hopes of many of those who voted for Corbyn, which is that enough of the parliamentary could unite behind him to form an effective opposition and a potential government, have proved false. If that reality is ignored or wished away, the implications for those who oppose the current disastrous and incompetent Conservative government will be devastating.