Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham at Labour's manifesto launch. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How hard will it be for Labour to win the next election?

Boundary changes, Scotland and a new Tory leader mean the task is formidable. But five years is an eternity in politics. 

As they adjust to the strange new world of a Conservative majority, Labour MPs' minds have quickly turned to how they win next time. The belief of many that the last election was lost in the opening months of the 2010 parliament - when the party elected Ed Miliband and failed to rebut the Tories' account of the crash - means the coming leadership contest is regarded as particularly crucial. A fierce debate is underway over whether a short, six-week election should be held or whether, as in 2010, the party needs an extended debate about its future. Which option is favoured partly depends on the preferred candidate. MPs believe that a short contest would favour Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, the most experienced contenders, over relative newcomers Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Dan Jarvis and Tristram Hunt (all elected in 2010 or, in Jarvis's case, in 2011). A longer contest would give the "clean skins" more time to establish themselves. 

Labour's NEC will meet on Wednesday to agree a timetable for the leadership and deputy leadership contests. Under the party's rules, MPs need to be nominated by 15 per cent of the PLP (up from 12.5% in 2010) meaning there will be a maximum of six candidates (each needing to win over 35 of Labour's 232 MPs). 

For whoever wins, the challenge is a formidable one. Labour needs 94 gains to achieve a majority, a feat that only the Liberals in 1906 and Labour in 1945 have achieved from a starting point so weak. To add to this arithmetical Everest, the Tories will use their new-found majority to pass the boundary changes previously vetoed by the Lib Dems, increasing their standing by around 20 seats. At the next election, whether in 2020 or earlier, Labour will also have to contend with a new Conservative leader, most likely Boris Johnson or Theresa May, who may revive the party's support just at the moment it is flagging (as John Major did in 1990). The final great obstacle to a Labour victory is Scotland, where most believe it will take a generation, rather than merely a single term, to end the SNP's hegemony. 

But MPs are consoling themselves with the knowledge that if a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity. Just months after their triumph in 1992, the Tories' economic reputation was destroyed overnight by Black Wednesday. The scale of cuts planned over the new five years, the risk of a housing or banking crash and possible EU withdrawal all mean that a similarly epochal event cannot be ruled out. And if, as in 1994, Labour elects a leader with wide-ranging appeal, there is no reason it cannot win a majority. The lesson of this election, in which Cameron defied prediction by increasing the Tories' vote share, is to never dismiss what is thought impossible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism