Tuesday 31 March 2020 6:00 am

A new leader might give the Labour party a chance

For anyone holding out for some exciting non-virus news, this week brings a treat: the result of Labour’s leadershipelection.

Having suffered a catastrophic drubbing in mid December, the first Saturday in April will see a new leader of the opposition crowned, along with the elected position of deputy leader.

Amusingly, the candidates have all been asked to film an acceptance speech for release with the result, holding open the possibility that a technical glitch will bring us Rebecca Long-Bailey’s revolutionary rallying cry rather than, as is more likely, Sir Keir Starmer’s sober pledge to restore the left to victory.

Whoever wins, picking a new leader will be the easy bit. Starmer is better positioned to untangle the party from the web of hard-left ideology that has held it back for so long, but if Long-Bailey surprises the bookies and emerges triumphant, it will be continuity Corbyn all the way to the next election.

In normal times, the Tory party would hardly have paid attention to this ballot. But these are not normal times, and nobody can predict how the economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic will influence our politics in the years ahead.

True to form, Jeremy Corbyn has used the government’s unprecedented emergency response to reach for a nuanced political point – and missed. His position seems to be that the multi-billion pound economic response and the associated expansion of the state vindicates the views he’s always held.

With the country bracing for recession, investment drying up, industries collapsing, the police exercising draconian new powers and conference centres being turned into field hospitals, only someone as politically inept and ideologically blinkered as Corbyn could point to the mayhem and say “I thought you said we couldn’t afford all this.”

But, from Saturday, Corbyn will return to obscurity (if he ever left it) and a new Labour leader will begin the task of positioning the party for power.

The pandemic will change the economic conversation (and position) of the country, as well as the political priorities of the public. The Tories will not fight the next election on the ground they had expected, and a new Labour leader might – just might – give them a run for their money. 

Main image: Getty

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