When I called half a year ago the minority of MPs and associated journalists that was trying, and had tried from day 1, to openly undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour’s “new militant tendency”, I was doing the original militants a disservice. My complaint at the time against these “anti-Corbynistas” was that they muddied the waters for any Labour party member who needed to see how well Corbyn was doing, because bad poll results could easily, and with some justification, be blamed on their activities. If the anti-Corbynistas were right about Corbyn’s unelectability (and unless their aim was to form a new party), they were shooting themselves in the foot and prolonging his period in office through their activities.
I hugely understated my case. The damage they were doing turned out to be much worse than that: they were firing the first missile in a war of mutually assured destruction for the party. The reason relates not to Corbyn’s electability but his competence. As Owen Jones suggests, Corbyn - unlike John McDonnell - has failed to adjust to his new role. He seems to be repeatedly “missing in action” at key points. Both he and McDonnell needed quickly to form a good working relationship with the shadow cabinet, as good politicians can often do with others holding very different views, but they failed to do so. As Neal Lawson writes of Corbyn, “no one with any sense or insight believes he has the leadership skills to craft a majoritarian politics”.
Now many people, including the anti-Corbynistas, will happily tell me that this was obvious before Corbyn was elected, and I was naive not to say so more strongly before he was first elected. But this fails to acknowledge the terrible place the majority of the PLP were in at the time, and that the membership needed to do something about it. To quote Lawson again, he voted “for the wave not the surfer”.The model of how to win elections that the PLP had taken from the Blair years was leading them to endorse austerity and abstain on welfare cuts. They needed a shock to force them to rethink, and Corbyn’s 2015 victory was that shock.
Following his election the majority of MPs did try working with Corbyn, or else stay quietly on the sidelines. They did not spend their days trying to undermine him: they were not part of the group I call the anti-Corbynistas. But then what this section of MPs saw was Corbyn’s failure to lead, or indeed promote the party outside of the membership. There were some in Corbyn’s team, like Neale Coleman, who understood what was required, but he resigned in January (and now works for Owen Smith). Although McDonnell was making progress in some areas, like the adoption of a state of the art fiscal rule , there seemed to be no sign of improvement from Corbyn. Each MP has their own individual story of lack of competence and communication (e.g. here, here or here), as do others who had contact with the leadership. The majority of MPs from the middle of the party began to realise that in all conscience they could not argue that Corbyn should be a prime minister.
But try to suggest that to many members who support Corbyn, and it does not compute. For them all 172 MPs are now ‘plotters’, determined to overthrow the power of members to choose the leader they want. In my experience it is not quite the paranoia discussed here, but there seems to be no attempt to understand the diversity of motives within the PLP. All examples of Corbyn’s inadequacy are brushed aside as ‘smears’, again based on the antics of some anti-Corbynistas. The anti-Corbynistas said Corbyn’s policies made him unelectable, a proposition which those on the left with some justification reject. This appears to mean that a very different proposition - that a leader rejected by 80% of his MPs whatever his policies is unelectable - is brushed aside. In other words Corbyn’s supporters have adopted the anti-Corbynistas as their model of what has happened to the PLP, which allows them to dismiss any reasonable criticism. That is the devastating contribution the anti-Corbynistas have made to the current situation.
For many members this election has become about their right to elect Labour’s leader, which they believe the PLP are trying to take away from them. Many of the PLP respect that right, but believe they have to inform the membership that Corbyn is not a competent leader or a credible PM. Yet that more nuanced view seems lost on many members, who seem to regard the majority of the PLP as unfit to be in the Labour party they want.
The ‘coup’ was in my view both mistimed and misjudged, and the attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper bizarre. But the coup is not explained by Corbyn’s supporters as the desperate actions of those who had just witnessed the Brexit vote after the Labour leadership followed a flawed campaign, the last and most important act of leadership inadequacy and mismanagement. Instead, following McDonnell, they believe it shows how incompetent the PLP are at staging a coup.
As in a war, the language being used takes on a righteous tone. Rather than think in terms of the politics of what might happen, we get the morality of what should happen. Rather than contemplate adaptation as events change and capabilities are revealed, we get the defiant talk of no compromise.
A Corbyn victory would be the return salvo in this war of mutually assured destruction. Here is the best outcome I can foresee if Corbyn wins. Most MPs will batten down the hatches, waiting for something to turn up. A few will try and work with him, hoping against judgement that things might improve, but most will not. Polls will stay terrible but show some improvement as some voters forget Labour’s internal divisions, the tabloids will keep relatively quiet because they want Corbyn to stay, and Labour gets some protest votes. Perhaps some electoral setback will result in another leadership challenge.
But come any general election who is going to vote for a party where less than 20% of MPs have confidence in their leader? Any media interview with any of the 172 will ask how can you say Corbyn is fit to be PM if you had no confidence in him 4 years ago, and what does this change of heart tell us about your judgement? If the antics of a minority of Corbynistas can be used to explain Corbyn’s poor poll ratings, using the same logic to think about the next general election means it will be disastrous.
The result will be terrible not just for Labour but also its left. The experience of 1983 marked the beginning of the end for the left of the Labour party. There will be some members who really mean it when they say that Corbyn is the start of a long term project, and that it may take a decade or more to rebuild the party, but most members will grow tired of losing elections during that time. Corbyn’s refusal to back down will harm those that might come after him.
I have looked and listened for a more optimistic outcome. I have read about how 21st century politics will be different because of social media, but as Ellie Mae O’Hagan writes, “78% of people rely on television as their main source of news, compared with 19% who use Facebook and 10% who use Twitter. Crucially, less than a third of respondents regarded Twitter as trustworthy.” I have read about grand alliances (which I support), but not why they save Labour and the left from this fate. I cannot see any plausible account of why things might be better: nothing any objective political scientist would even bother to critique.
The outcome I have painted, awful as it is, is not the worst that can happen, and may not even be the most likely outcome for two reasons. First, if Corbyn gets re-elected he is unlikely to receive a re-election bounce in the polls, so it will be very tempting for May to go for an early election. The means by which she can do so are straightforward.
Second, the idea that members are just refighting 2015 misses how much has changed since then, particularly with Brexit. In 2015 business and finance were 100% behind the Conservatives. With the Brexit vote, and the campaign’s leading lights running the coming negotiations, that has fundamentally changed.  With the Brexit vote what I would call the pro-European centre desperately wants an effective voice. With Cameron/Osborne gone, Brexit ministers in charge of negotiations and an expected recession the notion of Conservative competence at running the economy has gone. If Corbyn remains there will be a vacuum where an effective opposition should be, and that vacuum could well be filled by a new party. If there is serious talk of deselecting Labour MPs, that new party will include many of them.
If that happens, I see no reason why the 1980s will not repeat itself. Some Corbyn supporters, immersed in their imagined battle with the PLP, see this as just one more threat from the other side that they should discount (and - morality again - denounce). One even called it Project Fear to me. But the whole point about Project Fear was that it was a way for first the SNP and then the Brexit campaign to avoid talking about the consequences of their side winning. A way of avoiding hard truths.
The horrible irony about this fight to the death between the PLP and the membership is that the membership are fighting the last war which took place in a pre-Brexit landscape that was very different from today. As Owen Smith’s economic programme and this interview make clear, both Corbyn’s original victory and Brexit mean that the PLP has completely abandoned austerity.  Can it be that something the membership would gladly have voted for in 2015 is now seen as either inadequate or an illusion? Is it that power once obtained corrupts, or that those used to struggle and defeat can only trust someone who will ensure the same?
 Here Owen Jones makes a mistake. It is true that the mediamacro spin was that this new fiscal credibility rule was just like the policy under Balls, but it was crucially different: the rule allows the focus to switch from the deficit to output in a liquidity trap recession. In other words it was a rule that would have avoided 2010 austerity. One journalist described this as a ‘loophole’, but I think having a rule that avoided the austerity that did so much harm is pretty important. If it survives and the coming recession is bad, it will be crucial in allowing Labour to argue for more fiscal support than the Conservatives/Treasury will countenance.
 If you have access read the tone of the comments (click ‘most recommended’) to this FT article by Brexiter Bernard Jenkins. Or this.
 In this interview Smith does three things which I suggested in this post: he praises Corbyn for increasing and enthusing the party membership, he is highly critical of the 2015 election strategy, and he makes it clear that the UK will get a second opportunity to vote on Europe. Perhaps as a result of this, the line of argument I’ve now heard many times is that because Smith breaks so many Blairite taboos he cannot survive. Here I do think paranoia replaces any realistic assessment. If Jeremy Corbyn after a no confidence vote from 80% of the PLP will not step down, why would Owen Smith just because he was too left wing for a minority of the PLP?