From the outside, apocalyptic movements are hard to comprehend or understand. Repeated promises that the ‘end is nigh’, often with a specific date attached, lead to nought. The world keeps turning and apocalypse keeps being postponed. Why don’t people leave when it becomes clear that their beloved guru or pastor got it wrong? When it dawns on them that they sold all their earthly possessions and said goodbye to their nearest and dearest for no reason at all? Why does (often repeated) evidence that they are victims of a fraud not convince members of these groups to abandon them and thus leave their false prophets without followers or financial backing? Well, because the wrongness is part of the sell. Each time the true believers agree, once again, to suspend their critical faculties they are distanced still further from everybody else. The sceptics are winnowed out. The credulous stay. And to the leaders of these outfits one hundred devotees are worth infinitely more than one thousand mere sympathisers. And so it is for Labour’s leadership.
Labour did not win the General Election, though they did do better than expected. This week Labour failed again. They failed to win new councils in London and actively lost one to the Conservatives. They failed to make significant gains outside of London, with a couple of notable exceptions. They did not win outright in Trafford. They lost Derby – home city of Corbyn’s most disciple-like parliamentary ally Chris Williamson. What was supposed to mark the next staging post on Corbynism’s steady ascent to Government now looks more like the beginning of a hasty descent back to base camp. The prophesies will need rewriting.
None of this is the case because the British people have fallen in love with Mrs May or with the Conservative Party. They did badly too. Limping manfully onwards, the Tories lack the capacity to excite or enthuse. Voters are generally pretty sick of this Government and – ironically – via Windrush and Grenfell Theresa May is rebadging her party as ‘nasty’ in many people’s minds. Brexit is a disaster – or rather, a menu of disasters from which the Cabinet cannot even agree on which disastrous sharing platter to order – and the most loyal of Ministers are discarded in haste to cover up for the Prime Minister’s own actions and decisions as a Minister in the previous Government. And yet, and yet…. Still Labour cannot break through. Still an odd, uneasy stalemate reigns.
The truth is that voters dislike Theresa May but are – in significant enough numbers for it to be a real problem – actively scared of Jeremy Corbyn. Short of the apocalypse genuinely approaching – the meteor lingering in the sky, the doomsday clock hovering at one minute to midnight – we will not elect someone we are afraid of. The true believers narrow – whittled down by events, by reality intruding, by genuine horror at the antisemitism or the disingenuousness on Brexit – but that is ok. Because the true believers may be fewer in number but they are united in faith. They have one shared objective – Jeremy – while their enemies within the party struggle to agree on anything much other than their shared misery. Jeremy Corbyn will almost certainly never be Prime Minister. But, for the moment, he is safe as Leader. Literally, he is going nowhere fast.
But that doesn’t mean that the fact we are past ‘peak Corbyn’ doesn’t spell danger for someone. Ironically, the declining chances of Corbyn winning an election make Mrs May’s continued premiership altogether less certain. She has been kept in place, in part, by her backbenchers’ fear of a Corbynista Government. They couldn’t shove her out of the way if that meant – possibly – an election that Jeremy could win. As Tory MPs grow less anxious about Corbyn’s prospects they also grow less cautious. Ambitions begin to bubble, alliances start to be forged, corners are plotted in while Cabinet Ministers make it clear that they would do things differently. Whilst it is the Labour Leader who had the worse week electorally it is the Prime Minister who has most to fear.