The reality that Jeremy Corbyn will likely be announced as Labour’s new leader in less than a month’s time has shocked the party’s senior figures into action. Tony Blair has delivered a full-throated attack on the left-winger in today’s Guardian, warning that a victory for him risks possible “annihilation” for the opposition. Just as David Cameron urged Scots to vote against independence in spite of the “effing Tories”, so Blair tells Labour’s selectorate: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left, right or centre of the party, whether you used to support me or hate me. But please understand the danger we are in.” It is doubtful that his intervention will persuade many (or any) of Corbyn’s supporters that they have made the wrong choice (indeed, the condemnation of the reviled Blair may only confirm their certainty). That the former PM waited until after registration had closed to act shows he recognises the danger that his words could only galvanise the left. But it is understandable that he did not want history to record that he remained silent as Corbyn marched to victory.
Then, this morning, Yvette Cooper abandoned the caution that has characterised her leadership campaign and launched her own salvo against Corbyn. In contrast to Andy Burnham, who has avoided such attacks on the frontrunner, Cooper charged the backbencher not only with unelectability but with offering “old solutions to old problems”. After a coded rebuke to Burnham (“nor am I going to pander or pretend I agree with them on the answers, and claim I’m just a more electable version of what they stand for”), she condemned Corbyn’s support for Nato withdrawal (“sorry, Jeremy, internationalism is a core Labour principle and I will always fight for it”), for the renationalisation of the energy companies (“switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle aged men in Whitehall”) and for reopening some coal pits. Corbyn has succeeded in uniting the Blairites and the Brownites in opposition to their original enemy: the left.
But in the view of Liz Kendall’s supporters, Cooper’s fusillade has come far too late in the contest. Rather than confronting Corbyn only after he had established a commanding lead, he should have been strangled at birth, they say. The question being asked in Labour is whether anyone is now capable of delivering a knock-out blow. Gordon Brown, who, unlike Blair, commands respect on the left, is expected to intervene in the near future. Just as the former prime minister stopped Scotland from going over the edge, so his allies hope he can stop Labour from doing so. Ed Miliband, however, the figure who most believe could have a decisive influence (many of his former supporters are backing Corbyn), will remain silent.
But both friends and enemies of Corbyn believe that his momentum is too great to reverse (one shadow cabinet minister predicts that he will win 60-65 per cent in the first round). The hundreds of thousands who have signed-up specifically to vote for the left-winger will not be dissuaded by warnings from their political elders – and many will cast their votes almost immediately after ballots go out tomorrow. Perhaps the only person who could stop Corbyn is Corbyn himself. The backbencher neither wanted nor expected to become leader. He explicitly stood with the intention of influencing the contest, not winning it. But the moment when he could conceivably do a John Sergeant (“The trouble is that there is now a real danger that I might win the competition. Even for me that would be a joke too far,” said the Strictly Come Dancing contestant, and gracefully retreat, has passed.