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11 July 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 2:15pm

When it comes to Johnson vs Corbyn, at least one party is in for a major shock

By Stephen Bush

Kim Darroch has resigned his post as British ambassador to the United States following the leak of confidential diplomatic telegrams containing his unvarnished assessment of the state of the Trump administration and Boris Johnson’s failure to back him on television.

The reality is that candid briefing about the state of a host country is what all diplomats do, but when your host country is led by a politician as thin-skinned and erratic as Donald Trump, you cannot do your job as an ambassador once these briefings are made public, as most officials and politicians privately accept. What will have a chilling effect is the failure of Johnson and his allies to back Darroch personally – as I explain in greater detail here, civil servants’ reluctance to give candid advice will be heightened by them increasingly feeling that the reward for candour is negative briefing, hostile attacks in the press and leaks of confidential advice. 

Although the row is too late in the contest to change the outcome – in postal ballots, whether they are to the board of the local Warhammer Society or a general election, the majority of votes are cast right after the ballots arrive on doormats – it has re-awakened concerns in the parliamentary party that Johnson cannot do the job and that under fire he will crumble.

Speaking of Jeremy Corbyn… the Labour leader, along with his close allies Seumas Milne and Jennie Formby, has been described as “personally responsible for having turned a once great, anti-racist party into a cesspit of anti-Semitism” by Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews after eight former Labour staffers told Panorama that senior officials in the leader’s office frustrated attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks.

The Labour leadership disputes the claims and a Labour Party spokesperson has described the documentary as “seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning”.

In both cases, the stories will merely confirm what people already think. If you believe that Johnson is surrounded by a Remainer establishment that he will have to strain every sinew to defeat, then the Darroch row is grist to that mill.  And if you believe that Jeremy Corbyn is a victim of, rather than a central protagonist in Labour’s anti-Semitism row, then a documentary in which former staffers and Labour members go on air with their doubts is not going to change that, either.

The question is: what do the large group of MPs who don’t think that the Darroch row shows that Johnson is beset by Remoaner wreckers, and who do think that Jeremy Corbyn and his office are personally culpable in the anti-Semitism row do next? 

There’s the Amber Rudd route – she has today told the BBC that a no-deal Brexit on 31 October may have to be part of the “armoury”: learn to go along with the prevailing wind in your party because it’s better to be inside it and on the up than outside it and going nowhere. There’s plenty of that on the Labour side, too.

Then there’s what you might call the Betty Boothroyd approach, who told my colleague Anoosh that the question of Corbyn’s fitness for office is “not a relevant question”, because “Corbyn ain’t going to win”. Let the electorate sort it out – there’s a fair amount of that on the Tory side as well. 

Then there’s staying and fighting – or perhaps that should be staying and tweeting: criticise the leader while having no viable or visible route to remove him. We could call it the Alan Duncan route – his line that Johnson has thrown Kim Darroch under the bus is everywhere in the papers today – or we could pick a number from one to 229 and simply name whichever Labour MP we drew that way, because to be blunt that is the preferred approach of most in the parliamentary party.

The thing is: unless Jo Swinson or Ed Davey can realign politics, the anti-Johnsonians and the Corbynsceptics can’t both be right. At the next election, at least one MP who has been airily looking at their leader and hoping that voters will intervene is in for a nasty shock.  

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