James Murdoch hearing - live-blog

Instant coverage and analysis as the MPs question the News International chairman about phone-hackin

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13.37: And on that note, the inquiry is over. Thanks for joining us.

13.32: Why were Mulcaire's legal costs paid, asks Farrelly? Murdoch replies that his understanding is that legally, if he was acting on the company's behalf, then it was their responsibility to pay his legal costs. Farrelly presses the point of how unpalatable it is to be paying the legal fees of the man who hacked Milly Dowler's phone.

13.27: Back to Paul Farrelly for a final question on Glenn Mulcaire. He asks whether Murdoch was involved in anyway with the rumoured £1m payment to Max Clifford. Murdoch says he was not directly involved with this settlement. Farrelly points out that Clifford, too, is not a member of the royal family and repeats his line about the elder Murdoch: "I've got this Australian voice rattling around in my head..."

13.23: Murdoch tells Therese Coffey that the people who are allowed to make cash payments has been seriously restricted.

13.17: Bit of a digression here, as Steve Rotheram asks about the Hillsborough case. "Is it in the public interest to tell lies?" he says. Murdoch apologises for the coverage. Rotheram asks whether the Sun will be closed too if it is found that there was phone-hacking there. Murdoch says he can't "prejudge" what the corporate response would be but nothing is ruled out. This is the first time a News International executive has said that they could close other papers.

13.13: It gets personal. Watson says that a former NI employee claimed Rebekah Brooks had a "pathological dislike" for him (Watson). He reads out comments Brooks allegedly made to Tony Blair, calling on the then PM to reign the backbencher in: "he's mad". Watson asks if Murdoch knows about this. Murdoch is awkward, and says he had very little to do with the former prime minister.

Watson says that "the diktat went out" to staff to "dig up as much dirt as you can" on the culture committee. Murdoch says he had no knowledge of this.

13.09: Watson gets Murdoch to check with his counsel whether they knew about computer hacking in cases that were settled. After a pause, Murdoch says "they'd like to come back to you".

13.06: Whittingdale (the chair) turns back to Watson, given Mensch's line of questioning. Murdoch accepts that the use of surveillance of public figures was too widespread, in answer to Watson, who has listed the names of private investigators who worked for NI. He says that new guidelines at News International ban the use of private investigators without approval from the chief executive.

13.02: Mensch suggests it would have been better for News International to give a full disclosure rather than allow the damaging drip drip drip of revelations. Murdoch says that in future, the company will be "transparent and appropriate as possible".

12.58: She's asking about the surveillance of lawyers of plaintiffs. He says that it is "unacceptable" behaviour that he would "never condone" and that he was shocked to find it out. "The whole affair is just not acceptable, and not on," Murdoch says. On the surveillance of committee members (including Tom Watson), Murdoch apologises and says that although there is sometimes cause to trail public figures in investigative journalism, in this case it was unjustifiable.

12.53: Louise Mensch takes over, saying that she will have to leave as soon as she's finished asking questions so that she can collect her children from school. She asks how many other News International titles have been hacking phones, "to your knowledge". Murdoch looks unsettled. He says he can't speculate, but that they are taking it very seriously.

She's following up on accounts of people being hacked on American soil. He says he has no knowledge of this. "You're coming up blank," she says.

12.50: "Do you think you have handled this competently?" Murdoch pauses, and then says that he behaved reasonably given the information that he had. He says that he "shares" responsibility for the fact that the company took a long time to see the issue as legitimate criticism rather than simply attacks, and he will make sure this doesn't happen again.

Farrelly presses the issue, asking whether Murdoch's failure to ask screamingly obvious questions makes him incompetent. "No, it does not," says Murdoch, adding that he would not characterise it that way.

12.48: The complete contradiction between Myler/Crone's testimony and Murdoch's is being spelt out. Farrelly says that if they are telling the truth, Murdoch is lying, and vice versa. Murdoch replies by questioning the reliability of their testimony, saying it is full of supposition.

12.41: Farrelly says that Murdoch was "possibly the only person in London" to still believe that the hacking was the fault of one rogue reporter.

12.35: Farrelly is going over the same ground: why didn't Murdoch ask any further questions about what else Glenn Mulcaire was doing. He points out that Gordon Taylor was not royal -- and the "rogue reporter" narrative pinned the blame on Clive Goodman, the royal reporter. Would Rupert Murdoch not have asked how much more Mulcaire was going to cost? "I couldn't possibily speculate".

"It's remarkably incurious," he says. "Are you always so incurious?" All the MPs have made it clear they disbelieve Murdoch's account that he didn't know the extent of what was going on, but he is not budging. It is unlikely he will. The implication is that if he is not lying, he was recklessly hands off.

12.27: Paul Farrelly asks whether Murdoch will give Colin Myler (former NOTW editor) access to relevant documents so that he can "refresh his memory" as to whether a meeting took place. Murdoch evades the question, saying that he can show them his calendar, which has no reference to a meeting on that day. He pointedly refuses to say that he will grant Myler access to these documents, instead saying he will review News International procedures around that request.

12.22: The Guardian has a transcript of Watson's show-stopping revelation that he had spoken with Thurlbeck. Watson said:

Thurlbeck: I looked at it (the Neville email), no Tom, I never received it, I don't know. I'm looking at it and saying that surely somebody must have asked X to do this, X was asked to do so many of these by the newsdesk at the time.

So Tom comes to me and I tell him I had nothing to do with it. He tells me that it's gone through X in the office, so clearly News International are culpable, and I'm going to have to show this to James Murdoch.

He said is there any way we can get round this? And he says to me, Nev, I'm sorry I've got to show him this. I said Tom, I'm going to lose my job; he said not necessarily.

This is not some vague memory, I was absolutely on a knife edge. Tom took it to him. The following week I said "did you show him the email?" He said "yes I did". Now he can't remember whether he showed it to Mr Murdoch or not. He said "it's alright, it's fine, it's settled.

12.18: This is a clever line of questioning. Davies says that if, as Murdoch says, it was a culture where the top dogs basically ignored small parts of the business, then why would Crone have a strict ceiling on the level of payment he was allowed to authorise? (he couldn't authorise payments of more than £10,000). Murdoch responds:

The situation that we had here is one where a description was given very clearly by senior legal counsel that this case would be lost. There was an amount of money that was substantial, you are absolutely right. The way the company has always operated is to rely on executives responsible for a corner of the business to do what they need to do.

12.15: Davies says he can't even begin to believe that any self-respecting chief executive would fail to ask questions about such a substantial payment. He says he struggles to understand such a "cavalier" approach to money.

12.08: Philip Davies has taken over. "You seem more vague this time round than you were the first time round," he says, referring to Murdoch's repeated assertions that he does not recall exact details, etc. He continues to ask about the Taylor settlement.

He focuses on the advice given by Michael Silverleaf QC, which suggested the existence of evidence of a widespread culture of phone-hacking. Murdoch maintains that all he knew was what Silverleaf said about how much Taylor should receive in damages.

12.04: The general consensus is that Tom Watson has stolen the show. He has been building up to this moment. My colleague Jon Bernstein interviewed Watson in September, and discussed his questioning technique:

His probing was pithy and carefully sequenced, with the occasional leading question thrown in like a hand grenade. One lawyer suggested that all young barristers should be made to watch the exchange as part of their education.

Watson, who is now 44, puts the success of the session down, in part, to "massive preparation . . . For two years, I have been reading and absorbing this stuff. Then I worked for three days solid before we went in."

The other part, he says, was to work out what lay at the heart of the controversy. Once he had established that - "It's about the institutional culture at News International; this is about leadership" - he knew that Rupert, not James, should be his focus. Watson worked out how to order his questions. "At that point, I phoned up as many of my friends who are lawyers to say, 'This is how I want to do this - how would I lead it to this?'"

12.00: Murdoch continues to blame Myler and Crone, saying that he believed their advice on the Taylor case because he had "no reason at the time to believe they had anything other than the newspaper's best interests at heart". Collins is pushing the point though: why didn't Murdoch ask more questions when he was signing away half a million pounds? This is important: the real reason they settled is that going to court would have revealed evidence of wide-spread phone-hacking.

11.55: The Conservative MP Damian Collins has taken over, and there are none of Watson's theatrics. He is returning to the issue of exactly how much Murdoch knew when he agreed to the £425,000 out of court settlement for Gordon Taylor.

Murdoch reiterates his case: he was told it was "open and shut" that News International will lose the case. He saw evidence that Taylor's phone had been hacked, but not that anyone else's was.

11.50: Watson is enjoying this. "Are you familiar with the word mafia, Mr Murdoch?" He follows up: "Are you familiar with the word 'omerta', the culture of silence around the mafia? Do you accept that applies to the Murdoch empire?" Murdoch says he does not, and that this is an offensive statement.

Watson has his moment: "You must be the first mafia boss in history not to know he was running a criminal enterprise." Murdoch: "Mr Watson, please. That's inappropriate."

11.43: Watson says that since Murdoch will not answer his questions, he says that he will reveal that he met with Neville Thurlbeck. The meeting was supposed to be in confidence but he feels there is a public interest in sharing it. Thurlbeck recounts a conversation with Tom Crone where Crone said he was going to show the "for Neville" email to Murdoch.

Watson reads out a transcript of a conversation between Thurlbeck and Crone. Thurlbeck: "'Is there any way we can get round this?" Crone: "Nev, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to show him this, because it's the only reason we have to settle."

Murdoch is clearly rattled, but responds as calmly as he can to this attack, saying that he would like to see the transcript and couldn't comment on whether Thurlbeck's recollection is accurate.

According to Watson, Thurlbeck said: "This is not some vague memory. He was going to show this to James Murdoch."

11.39: Watson is incredulous at Murdoch's continued denial that he knew anything about the evidence of wide-spread phone-hacking.

Are you seriously asking me to believe that there was no mention of the 'for Neville' email, despite this being central to your discussions with Myler and Crone and in Crone's opinion, fatal to your case?

11.36: He is not wavering from his story: he did not see, and was not shown, any evidence that wide-spread phone-hacking existed. "Certain individuals" were aware of what was going on back in 2008, but "none of those things" were relayed to him. Murdoch suggests he was given a "narrower set of facts than I might have liked" because he would have said to "cut out the cancer" and get rid of anyone suspected of wrong-doing.

11.29: Watson: "Did you mislead this committee?" Murdoch: "No, I didn't". Watson: "If you didn't, then who did?"

Murdoch says that Myler (the News of the World's former editor) and Crone's (the paper's lawyer) testimony was "misleading, and I dispute it". Watson asks whether the Farrer's lawyer misled them. Murdoch stumbles, and says that he doesn't have reason to believe that.

11.26: Murdoch remains in control and calm -- he hasn't referred to his notes. He is riled though: "No, I don't accept that, Mr Watson". Watson continues to focus on how much Murdoch knew about the Taylor case, and alleges that Murdoch made an "unprecented payment to Taylor to buy his silence".

11.22: Labour MP and star of this inquiry, Tom Watson, is now questioning Murdoch. He is asking about the legal advice given by law firm Farrers, and an internal memo which said that the evidence unearthed in the Gordon Taylor settlement could be "fatal to our case". Murdoch continues to claim ignorance, saying that he knew this legal advice existed but not what it said.

He's sticking to his story that he was new to the News of the World, thought that phone-hacking was in the past, and paid Taylor without asking any questions.

11.21: Echoing his last appearance, Murdoch says that the News of the World was one small part of a global company, and that is why he did not know all the details.

11.18: Murdoch says "If I'd known then what I know today, the company would have acted differently." He's referring -- again -- to the "for Neville" email, which indicated that phone-hacking went beyond one rogue reporter (Goodman), as the newspaper had claimed.

11.16: Murdoch says that the company "pushed back too hard" on the Guardian's initial reports. Earlier, he said that their mistake was assuming attacks were politically or commercially motivated.

11.13: Adrian Sanders asks whether Murdoch has had time to consider the meaning of "wilful blindness" since his last appearance. "At no point so I think the company suffered from wilful blindness," says Murdoch. Since he has consistently been unaware of details, says Sanders, does this mean information was kept from him? He says the information held by the Metropolitan police "was not made clear to me". He essentially blames Colin Myler for not making the full story clear to him:

Senior management rely on executives to behave in a certain way. We have to rely on those executives, otherwise it's impossible to manage every single detail in a company of this scale.

11.10: Sheridan asks whether he is "humbled" by the affair, as Rupert Murdoch said he was. "I think the whole company is humbled," says Murdoch.

11.08: Jim Sheridan is asking him about the aftermath of the Clive Goodman case and what he was told. Murdoch said he did not see counsel opinion that phone-hacking was more widespread. He says that Les Hinton did not discuss the Goodman settlement with him when Murdoch became chairman: "It was some time before I had joined...the arrests were well over a year, a year and a half before."

11.04: As predicted, the questions have kicked off with how much Murdoch knew about the "for Neville" email. After his last appearance, Tom Crone and Colin Myler disputed his claim that he had no knowledge of this email (Sky News has a good summary of the claims that have been made so far).

Murdoch says that the suspicion of wider evidence of hacking was not discussed in May 2008 meetings with Crone and Myler, despite the settlement to Gordon Taylor. He concedes that he was told about the "for Neville" email but sticks to his line: he wasn't told that it showed wider evidence of hacking.

10.59: Here's the full list of the 10 members of the cross-party culture, media and sport select committee that will question Murdoch:

Thérèse Coffey (Conservative)
Damian Collins (Conservative)
Philip Davies (Conservative)
Paul Farrelly (Labour)
Alan Keen (Labour Co-operative)
Louise Mensch (Conservative)
Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat)
Jim Sheridan (Labour)
Tom Watson (Labour)
Steve Rotheram (Labour)

10.52am: Welcome to the live-blog. Stay with this page for up-to-the-minute coverage of James Murdoch's appearance in front of the culture select committee.

Since Murdoch was last questioned by MPs, back in July, a string of further allegations have surfaced. The number of potential phone-hacking victims has more than doubled from 2,000 to 5,800, and it has emerged that in addition to phone-hacking, the News of the World ordered covert surveillance of Prince William and more than 100 others.

The testimony he gave in July has been questioned by others at the News of the World -- in particular expect MPs to ask about the so-called "for Neville email" which would prove how much he knew when he signed off a 2008 out-of-court payment to footballers' union leader Gordon Taylor.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election

The revolt against the leader transformed him from an incumbent back into an insurgent. 

On the evening of 12 July, after six hours of talks, Jeremy Corbyn emerged triumphantly from Labour’s headquarters. “I’m on the ballot paper!” he told supporters gathered outside. “We will be campaigning on all the things that matter.”

The contest that Corbyn’s opponents had sought desperately to avoid had begun. Neither a vote of no confidence by 81 per cent of Labour MPs, nor 65 frontbench resignations had persuaded him to stand down. Days of negotiations led by Tom Watson had failed (“For years I’ve been told that I’m a fixer. Well, I tried to fix this and I couldn’t,” Labour’s deputy leader sorrowfully told the parliamentary party). The rebels’ last hope was that the National Executive Committee would force Corbyn to reseek nominations. After being backed by just 40 colleagues in the confidence vote, both sides knew that the leader would struggle to achieve 51 signatures.

But by 18-14, the NEC ruled that Corbyn would be automatically on the ballot (“Watson, Watson, what’s the score?” chanted jubilant aides in the leader’s office). After withstanding a 16-day revolt, Corbyn appeared liberated by the prospect of a summer of campaigning. His confidence prefigured the outcome two months later.

Corbyn did not merely retain the leadership - he won by a greater margin than last time (with 61.8 per cent of the vote to last year's 59.5 per cent) and triumphed among all three sections: party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. The rebels had hoped to narrow his mandate and win among at least one group: they did neither. Far from being a curse for Corbyn, the contest proved to be a blessing. 

***

The day before the pivotal NEC meeting, Angela Eagle, who had been preparing to stand for months, launched her leadership bid. The former shadow business secretary was admired by MPs for her experience, tenacity, and economic acumen. Her trade union links and soft left background were further cited in favour of her candidacy.

But after an underwhelming launch, which clashed with Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Conservative contest (leaving Eagle calling questions from absent journalists), MPs gravitated towards Owen Smith.

Like Eagle, Smith hailed from the party’s soft left and had initially served under Corbyn (two prerequisites in the rebels’ eyes). But unlike her, the former shadow and work pensions secretary did not vote for the Iraq war (having entered parliament in 2010) or the 2015 Syria intervention. “It looks like the war party,” a senior Corbynite said of Eagle’s campaign launch with Hilary Benn. Many Labour MPs feared the same. With the left-leaning Lisa Nandy having ruled herself out, only the ambitious Smith met the criteria.

“I’d been in hospital for two days with my brother, who was unwell, in south Wales,” he recalled when I interviewed him.  “I came out having literally been in A&E at Cardiff Heath hospital for 29 hours, looking after him, to have my phone light up with 30, 40, 50 colleagues, MPs and members, ringing up saying ‘there’s going to be a contest, Angela Eagle has thrown her hat into the ring, you should do likewise.’ And at that point, on the Wednesday night, I started ringing people to test opinion and found that there was a huge amount of support for me.”

On 19 July, after Smith won 90 MP/MEP nominations to Eagle’s 72, the latter withdrew in favour of the Welshman. A week after the Conservatives achieved their second female prime minister, Labour’s 116-year record of all-male leaders endured. Though Smith vowed that Eagle would be “at my right hand throughout this contest”, she went on to appear at just one campaign event.

Corbyn’s challenger was embraced by MPs as a “clean skin”, untainted by service during the New Labour years. But Smith’s non-parliamentary past was swiftly - and ruthlessly - exploited by his opponents. His time at the US drugs firm Pfizer was cited as evidence of his closeness to big business. Corbyn’s supporters also seized on interviews given by Smith as a by-election candidate in 2006.

The man pitching to the left was found to have defended Tony Blair (suggesting that they differed only over the Iraq war), supported private sector involvement in the NHS and praised city academies. “I'm not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances,” he told Wales Online. Such lines were rapidly disseminated by Corbyn supporters through social media.

“Getting out early and framing Owen was crucial,” a Corbyn source told me. A Smith aide echoed this assessment: “It helped secure their base, it took a load of people out of contention.”

Throughout the campaign, Smith would struggle to reconcile his past stances with his increasingly left-wing programme: opposing private provision in the NHS, returning academy schools to local authority control, banning zero-hours contracts and imposing a wealth tax of 1 per cent. “It was easy for us to go for the jugular over his background when he portrayed himself as a left candidate,” a Corbyn source said.

Smith insisted that the charge of opportunism was unmerited. “To be honest, my opponents have extrapolated rather a lot in an attempt to brand me as a ‘Blairite wolf in sheep’s clothing,’” he told me in August. “Well, I’m nothing of the sort, I’ve always been a democratic socialist and I always will be.” He added: “I’m someone who’s been surrounded by people who’ve been on the left of the Labour movement all their lives. It should come as no surprise that I’ve come out of that background and I’m pretty red. Because I am.”

But a former shadow cabinet colleague said that Smith did not stand out as “a radical” in meetings. “The only time that I remember him becoming really animated was over further tax-raising powers for Scotland and the implications for Wales.”

As well as Smith’s ambiguous past, Corbyn’s allies believe the breadth of his political coalition hindered him from the start. “He was trying to bring together Blairites, Brownites and every other -ite in between,” a campaign source said. “That was never going to hold, we knew that and from the moment there were splits it was easy to point out.”

Jon Trickett, the shadow business secretary and one of Corbyn’s early supporters, told me: “They tried to pretend that there was no distinction between them and Jeremy on policy grounds, they tried to narrow down the areas of difference to electability. But, frankly, it didn’t seem credible since some of the people behind it were absolutely ideologically opposed to Jeremy. Peter Mandelson and people like that.”

A frequently expressed charge was that Smith’s left-wing pledges would be overturned by Blairite figures if he won. John McGeechan, a 22-year-old postgraduate student who joined Labour after “self-indulgent, self-serving MPs initiated their corridor coup”, told me of Smith: “He’s just another mealy-mouthed careerist who says whatever he thinks is going to get him elected. I don’t believe at all that he means what he says about creating a radical socialist government given that he’s got the backing of Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, people who’ve disagreed with Corbyn on pretty much all his socialist policies. I don’t believe that he’s going to stand up to these people.”

Whether believable or not, Smith’s programme showed how Corbyn had shifted Labour’s centre of gravity radically leftwards - his original aim in June 2015.

***

On the night Corbyn made the leadership ballot, the rebels still found cause for hope. Unlike in 2015, the NEC imposed a freeze date of six months on voting (excluding 130,000 new members) and increased the registered supporter fee from £3 to £25 (while reducing the sign-up period to two days). “It’s game on!” a senior figure told me. By narrowing the selectorate, Corbyn’s opponents hoped to achieve a path to victory. With fewer registered supporters (84 per cent of whom voted for Corbyn last year), they believed full party members and affiliated trade unionists could carry Smith over the line.

But when 183,000 paid £25 to vote, their expectations were confounded. Far from being “game on”, it looked to many rebels like game over. Once again, Corbyn’s opponents had underestimated the left’s recruiting capacity. Smith’s lack of name recognition and undistinctive pitch meant he could not compete.

Alongside the main contest were increasingly fractious legal battles over voting rights. On 28 July, the high court rejected Labour donor Michael Foster’s challenge to Corbyn’s automatic inclusion on the ballot. Then on 8 August, a judge ruled that the party had wrongly excluded new members from voting, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal.

In the view of Corbyn’s allies, such legal manevoures unwittingly aided him. “They turned Jeremy, who was an incumbent, back into an insurgent,” Trickett told me. “The proponents of the challenge made it seem like he was the underdog being attacked by the establishment.”

Smith, who repeatedly framed himself as the “unity candidate”, struggled to escape the shadow of the “corridor coup”. That many of his supporters had never accepted Corbyn’s leadership rendered him guilty by association.

“The coup had an enormous galvanising effect and an enormous politicising effect,” a Corbyn source told me. “For a great number of people who supported Jeremy last year, there was a feeling, ‘well, we’ve done the work, that’s happened, now over to him.’ What the coup meant for a lot of people was that this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn, this is a people’s movement, which we all need to lead.” The Corbyn campaign signed up 40,000 volunteers and raised £300,000 in small donations from 19,000 people (with an average donation of £16). Against this activist army, their rivals’ fledgling effort stood no chance.

“At the launch rally, we had 12 simultaneous events going on round the country, livestreamed to each other,” a Corbyn source said. “We had a lot of communication with people who were big in the Sanders campaign. In the UK context, it’s trailblazing.”

On 12 August, after previously equivocating, Smith ruled out returning to the shadow cabinet under Corbyn. “I've lost confidence in you. I will serve Labour on the backbenches,” he declared at a hustings in Gateshead. In the view of Corbyn’s team, it was a fatal error. “He shot apart his whole unity message,” a source said.

Smith, who initially offered Corbyn the post of party president, was rarely booed more than when he lamented Labour’s divisions. As one of the 172 MPs who voted against the leader, he was regarded as part of the problem, rather than the solution. By the end, Smith was reduced to insisting “I wasn’t in favour of there being a challenge” - a statement that appeared absurd to most.

As well as his leftist credentials and unifying abilities, Smith’s other main boast was his competence and articulacy. “HIs USP was that he was this media-savvy guy,” a Corbyn source said. “As a result, he threw himself up for any and every media opportunity and made tons of gaffes. We just made sure people were aware of them.”

The most enduring gaffe came early in the campaign, on 27 July, when he spoke of wanting mto “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”. Though Smith initially defended his “robust rhetoric” (“you’ll be getting that from me”), by the afternoon his campaign had apologised. What was explained as a “rugby reference” dogged them for weeks. “It played into the hands of how Corbyn wanted to depict us,” a Smith source told me. “It was really hard to shake off.”

More unforced errors followed. Smith suggested getting Isis “round the table”, in anticipation, many believed, of Corbyn agreeing. But the Labour leader baulked at the proposal: “No, they are not going to be round the table”. Corbyn’s communications team, more organised and agile than in 2015, denounced Smith’s remarks as “hasty and ill-considered”. As with “smashed”, the Labour challenger had achieved rare cut-through - but for the wrong reasons.

Smith’s rhetorical looseness became a recurring problem. At a rally on 23 August, he appeared to refer to Corbyn as a “lunatic”. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he said of meeting his wife: “1,200 boys, three girls and I pulled Liz. So I must have something going on. That must be leadership.”

Earlier in the campaign, Smith’s team denied that the candidate referred to the size of his penis when he quipped of his height: "5ft 6. 29 inches - inside leg!” The guffaws from his supporters suggested otherwise.

We used to have a gaffe counter,” a Corbyn source told me. “I think it got up to 30 by the end.”

Smith’s team, meanwhile, despaired at how the Labour leader’s own missteps failed to dent him. The discovery that Corbyn had in fact secured a seat on a Virgin train, contrary to initial impressions, did little lasting damage. “It’s priced in, the bar is much lower for him,” a Smith source complained.

Incorrect claims, such as Labour being level in the polls before the coup attempt and Corbyn giving 122 speeches during the EU referendum campaign, were believed by many of his supporters. “How do you rebut bullshit?” a Smith aide asked. “If you respond, it becomes a story.”

So frequently had Labour MPs condemned their leader that extraordinary charges were soon forgotten. On 22 August, shadow business minister Chi Onwurah wrote in the New Statesman that Corbyn’s treatment of her and Thangam Debbonaire could constitute “racial discrimination”.

If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in,” she argued. But within a day, the story had moved on.  

For Smith, fleeting momentum was achieved through significant endorsements. On 10 August, the GMB backed his campaign after becoming the only trade union to ballot its members. The following week, Labour’s most senior elected politician, Sadiq Khan, endorsed Smith. Unlike Andy Burnham, the London mayor believed he could not remain neutral during this profound schism. Smith was subsequently also backed by the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale. Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband trumpeted his cause. Yet such declarations counted for little. “It’s like the Remain campaign and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” one Smith ally told me, suggesting that Labour members, like Leave voters, ”weren’t listening” to such grandees.

But in the view of Corbyn’s team, the rebels profoundly “underestimated” their opponent. “He’s a nice guy but he also has an inner steel and won't flinch from a challenge. The Obi-Wan Kenobi comparison is very accurate when you work up close with him. He’s also extremely intelligent and has a great grasp and retention of detail. It showed in the debates.”

“I have to say, I felt pretty sorry for Owen at several points,” another Corbyn source reflected. “Whatever it was, his ambition or being pushed into it, it didn’t seem like it was the right time for him. He hadn’t worked out what he was about and why that fitted with the times.”

***

Those Labour MPs who long warned that an early challenge to Corbyn would prove futile have been vindicated. “Party members are always loyal to the incumbent,” a senior source astutely noted. In the case of Corbyn, a lifelong campaigner, who many contended was “never given a chance”, this traditional fealty was intensified.

“Most of the people backing and funding him didn’t think Owen was going to win,” a Corbyn source said. “Their aim was, one, to reduce Jeremy’s mandate and, secondly, to map the selectorate.”

Having won a second leadership contest - an unprecedented achievement for the Labour left - the leader’s supporters insist their ambitions do not end here. “We’ve got to think incredibly seriously about how we win a general election in a totally changed landscape,” a Corbyn source told me. “This campaign has been showing how to do it.” But a Smith aide warned that it was a “massive strategic error” to make electability, rather than principle, the defining test of Corbyn. The leader, he suggested, could withstand a general election defeat provided he simply affirmed his values.

Beyond regarding a split as worthless, Labour MPs are divided on how to proceed. Some want another leadership challenge as early as next year. Rather than seeking to narrow the selectorate, they speak of recruiting hundreds of thousands of new members to overpower the left. “There are lots of people out there who want a credible, electable, centre-left proposition and we have not given them enough of a reason to sign up,” a former shadow cabinet minister told me. “Who has an offer and the charisma to be able to bring in new people? That has to be the question the next time round.”

Others believe that backbenchers should follow Thumper’s law: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  A senior MP argued that MPs should “just shut up” and “let Jeremy crack on with it.” The imperative, he said, was to avoid MPs “taking the blame for us getting thumped in a snap election”. Some are prepared to move beyond neutrality to outright support by serving under Corbyn.

The Labour left and their most recalcitrant opponents both confront challenges of electability. The former must demonstrate a path to victory despite Corbyn’s subterranean poll ratings. The latter, who boast so often of their superior appeal, must face a remorseless truth. Until they are electable in the party, they will never be electable in the country.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.