Labour's Learning Curve

Some of Jeremy Corbyn's most loyal supporters were elated by the news that Tristram Hunt is stepping down as an MP, to take over the V&A. 

Good riddance, they crowed, to another Blairite lickspittle. Rejoice, they cried, as the people's grip on the people's party is tightened once notch further. 

Do they really have anything to celebrate? 

Labour's centrists have tried -- and spectacularly failed -- to remove Mr Corbyn via a leadership challenge. Now many have concluded remaining inside a party so evidently doomed to fail is a waste of time. 

Mr Hunt is the second Labour MP in just a few weeks to walk away. Who could blame him. His constituency is slated for oblivion in the boundary review, party activists were itching to deselect him anyway, and even if those bullets could be dodged, why stay to spend another decade as a maligned opposition backbencher?

It's not just Tristram Hunt and Jamie Reed, who quit as Copeland MP to take a job in the nuclear industry. Andy Burnham's Westminster escape route is to become Manchester's Mayor, while Steve Rotherham seeks the same job in Liverpool.

Among those remaining in parliament, many seek the power and influence of a select committee job rather than a place in Mr Corbyn's shadow cabinet, which offers neither power nor influence. 

 Ready to (re)launch

Mr Corbyn's supporters might accuse Mr Hunt of deliberately trying to undermine the leader's January relaunch, had he not done a perfectly good job of undermining himself. 

Why on earth did Labour spinners tell reporters he was about to divorce the party from the principle of free movement for EU citizens, only for Mr Corbyn to perform a u-turn within the very sentence containing that pledge? 

Facing a government floundering on Brexit, and toxic headlines about a crisis in the NHS that has alarmed millions of people, the opposition should be soaring ahead in the polls, dominating the headlines as they put ministers on the rack. 

Instead, one poll suggests Theresa May is more trusted than Mr Corbyn on the NHS.

Labour should be making gains in every election it contests. Instead, it faces two entirely unnecessary by-elections, with no guarantee of victory in either. 

In Tristram Hunt's Stoke constituency, where 69% voted leave in the EU referendum, UKIP will be keen to seize the seat. Failure for them would raise serious questions of whether UKIP can ever be a parliamentary force. But even a narrow Labour victory would pile even more pressure on the leadership. 

Fewer than 50% of voters bothered to turn out in Stoke last time -- the by-election could hinge on which party manages to persuade its voters to head back to the polling stations. 

On-the-job training 

Mr Corbyn has got better, in some ways, since his second leadership victory. He's more assured at Prime Minister's Questions, more focussed, and less immediately hostile in interviews. 

Even so, Unite leader Len McCluskey admits he's on a "learning curve". Is Leader of the Opposition really a job you can pick up as you go? 

It's a continuous, public audition to be Prime Minister -- one Mr Corbyn has failed, again and again.  

Labour's poll ratings are dire, its own MPs are running away, defeat seems inevitable. 

Next comes political irrelevance -- and that could be fatal. 


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Donald Trump endorses the podcast. Kind of.