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.

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Commons confidential: Vive May's revolution

It's a risky time to be an old Etonian in the Tory party. . . 

The blond insulter-in-chief, Boris Johnson, survives as Theresa May’s pet Old Etonian but the purge of the Notting Hell set has left Tory sons of privilege suddenly hiding their poshness. The trustafundian Zac Goldsmith was expelled from Eton at the age of 16 after marijuana was found in his room, unlike David Cameron, who survived a cannabis bust at the school. The disgrace left Richmond MP Goldsmith shunned by his alma mater. My snout whispered that he is telling colleagues that Eton is now asking if he would like to be listed as a distinguished old boy. With the Tory party under new, middle-class management, he informed MPs that it was wise to decline.

Smart operator, David Davis. The broken-nosed Action Man is a keen student of geopolitics. While the unlikely Foreign Secretary Johnson is on his world apology tour, the Brexit Secretary has based himself in 9 Downing Street, where the whips used to congregate until Tony Blair annexed the space. The proximity to power gives Davis the ear of May, and the SAS reservist stresses menacingly to visitors that he won’t accept Johnson’s Foreign Office tanks on his Brexit lawn. King Charles Street never felt so far from Downing Street.

No prisoners are taken by either side in Labour’s civil war. The Tories are equally vicious, if sneakier, preferring to attack each other in private rather than in public. No reshuffle appointment caused greater upset than that of the Humberside grumbler Andrew Percy as Northern Powerhouse minister. He was a teacher, and the seething overlooked disdainfully refer to his role as the Northern Schoolhouse job.

Philip Hammond has the air of an undertaker and an unenviable reputation as the dullest of Tory speakers. During a life-sapping address for a fundraiser at Rutland Golf Club, the rebellious Leicestershire lip Andrew Bridgen was overheard saying in sotto voce: “His speech is drier than the bloody chicken.” The mad axeman Hammond’s economics are also frighteningly dry.

The Corbynista revolution has reached communist China, where an informant reports that the Hong Kong branch of the Labour Party is now in the hands of Britain’s red leader. Of all the groups backing Jezza, Bankers 4 Corbyn is surely the most incongruous.

Labour’s newest MP, Rosena Allin-Khan of Tooting, arrived in a Westminster at its back-stabbing height. Leaving a particularly poisonous gathering of the parliamentary party, the concerned deputy leader, Tom Watson, inquired paternalistically if she was OK. “I’m loving it,” the doctor shot back with a smile. Years of rowdy Friday nights in A&E are obviously good training for politics.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue