It’s all getting a bit heavy over at Labour’s Victoria Street Headquarters. The leadership has – for the last three years – been something of a miracle of suspended animation. What should fall, what all the laws of physics tell us must fall has – somehow – stayed aloft. Jeremy Corbyn is the bumble-bee leader that Labour never knew was possible. But maybe, just maybe the universe’s natural laws are beginning to assert themselves again. Just in time for the summer holidays.
One of the miracles has been the sustained comradeship between people at the top of the hard-left (and, now, at the top of the party) who – not to put too fine a point on it – hate one another. Old Stalinists direct strategy while new-age Trotskyists handle communications and – up till now – there hasn’t been an ice pick between them. The alliance that Corbyn forged (or, rather, that was forged on his behalf) has held despite its history of mistrust and its differing priorities for two reasons. One, desperation. Even the old purists of the hard-left have grown weary of impotence, Jeremy is their best hope in a generation and their last hope for another it all goes wrong and so they’ve striven to make it work. Two, bunkerism. Each ‘Blairite’ assault by Red Tory zombies has pushed this rag tag band of Jeremy’s frenemies closer together. Mine enemy’s enemy and all that.
But all is not well in the hard-left hive mind and old differences are forcing their way to the fore. There is no Blairite threat anymore and that reduces the effect of both bunkerism and of desperation. “Maybe you could have a left Leader who didn’t have thirty years of baggage and a weird preoccupation with Jewish people”, some are starting to think. “Maybe we should be concentrating on radical policies like Universal Basic Income rather than on the foreign policy obsessions of Guardian columnists”, whisper others. “Perhaps Jeremy is beginning to outlive his use to the movement”, ponder previously loyal lieutenants. After all, a bumble bee is only ever one sting from death.
The natural replacement would be Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who currently feels estranged from the Corbyn project and frustrated at the leadership’s poor response to allegations of antisemitism. He can see and feel his big chance of real power slipping away, as can some of his supporters on the left who see McDonnell as the real deal. He wants to deliver big, radical social and economic change and he is worried that Corbyn and his acolytes will mess it up. That makes him dangerous.
Of course, Corbyn will probably manage to beat his little wings just enough to escape, this time. The fact that he has apologised directly for his role in organising and addressing a conference comparing Gaza to Auschwitz (on Holocaust Memorial Day, naturally) shows that he can see he is in peril. But there will be more trials and tribulations over the next few months – ones that, like this present scandal, test his coalition’s commitment to collaboration. A vote on Brexit at party conference will spell trouble, as the unions and parts of Momentum are forced to choose between their interests and their leader. The looming Parliamentary crisis may fracture his parliamentary party in ways he has not even imagined. And all the while, the frustration amongst even his allies at the fixation with foreign policy and identity politics over radical economics and industrial strategy will continue to bubble.
Corbyn can cope with one or with two of these issues. He can hold it together and he can take most of his people with him. But all of them? The antisemitism, the Brexit enabling, the policy lethargy and the deteriorating interpersonal relationships? Taken together that’s a heavy mix. It’s bound to start weighing him down.