THE HOLIER THAN THOU WARS

It's not so much a holy war now; more the holier than thou variety. Commentators from all sides of the Labour divide have marshalled their own mythologies to explain why Jeremy Corbyn is the second coming or, alternatively, the electoral devil incarnate. The problem with all of which is that there are not so much fifty shades of grey in the arguments deployed, but stark caricatures in black and white.

One column I read this weekend suggested, in terms, that the black hatted establishment were intent on knocking  white knight Jeremy from his noble charger.  Another insisted that only Own Smith could save his party from eternal damnation in the polls. And the argument is far from being academic to lefties in Scotland who have long since plighted their troth elswhere.  For the immediate amd medium term future at least, who is running the Westminister shop is of crucial importance in trying to protect the poor and disenfranchised on whose behalf both sides of the Labour war insist they are speaking.

In some quarters - and among some of my own friends - it has become a treasonable offence to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn, he of the unassailable popular mandate from a hugely expanded membership, is anything other than the true keeper of Labour's soul.  Why hasn't he spent a lifetime pursuing a raft of noble causes?  Isn't he proposing all manner of policies aimed at mitigating the havoc wrought by the neo-liberal bucaneers? The sub text of which is that anyone failing to sign up to those propositions with a full heart is at best a middle class wimp or at worst an establishment lackey.

But there is a problem with this version of Saint Jeremy.  A parliamentary democracy does what it says on the tin. It conducts the nation's business via an elected parliament of representatives where the two principal inheritors of the popular vote serve as the goverment and the official opposition. You can argue the merits of this system - not least the obvious inequity of a first past the post voting system - but for the moment, and for the next UK election this is what we've got.

And this is where the dewy eyed optimism of the Mr Corbyn's new model army runs into problematical terrain. In order for their man to triumph he needs to persuade a large tranche of UK voters outwith traditional Labour heartlands to trust him with their vote.  Without garnering significantly more than the 5 per cent swing Ed Miliband failied to achieve, the keys to number 10 will never jingle in the pockets of his defiantly unfashionable clothing.  Getting to that constituency doesn't mean reverting to all the doublespeak and ideological contortions of New Labour.  If your currency is sincerity that would hardly make any sense and - in any event - would quite properly dismay all those newly attracted to the cause by the thought of a left of centre government which didn't feel obliged to keep tacking to the right.

(Think for a moment of these tactics couched in IndyRef2 terms.  If erstwhile Yes campaigners only turned up at rallies peopled by the already converted, and bathed in the warm glow of mass approbation,  they might very well produce the same poll result as Septmber 2014.  The trick will be to persuade the No camp and the genuine doubters that you can deliver a better, more stable, fairer future than what would be on offer within the UK.)

Equally Labour needs to address those who no longer trust them to deliver. So if the Corbyn inspired product is broadly acceptable, we have to look at the sales personnel.  I subscribe to the view that Prime Minister's Questions make ferrets in sacks seem models of diplomacy. And I give not much of a toss about the current argument that a good performance is necessary to enthuse the back benches.  A significant number of the Labour troops would not now be cheered if Corybyn did handstands on the dispatch box whilst juggling the mace on his upturned feet. (Which, in the aforementioned parliamentary democracy, is something of a handicap!)

So in addition to finding a solution to that huge split in their ranks,  Labour has to find itself someone who can be realistically portrayed as a leader of both party and country.  Only the most hardened Corbyn loyalist could fail to reflect that on recent evidence of his performances at PMQ, he cannot honestly be seen in that light. He had his best opportunity against a new PM, and no shortage of ammunition in the light of her cabinet appointments. Yet when he finally asked a question about Boris, and she shamelessly dodged it,  he lacked the nous and the wit to go back and skewer her.  He is an interesting speaker at a protest rally;  he simply lacks the presence to command attention on a larger stage.  And whatever else people might make of that verdict I'm assuming nobody will mistake me for a right wing stooge, an establishment puppet or a Blair apologist.

As for those behind the attempted parliamentary coup.  People know a little about Angela Eagle in the light of her ministerial experience.  They know next to knothing about Owen Smith.  And those who did have a public profile,  Burnham, Cooper et al were tossed aside in the last leadership election with gay abandon by the members and £3 supporters.  And before we get too precious about the marvellous expansion of popular democracy occasioned by supporting the Labour Party costing less than a pint of best bitter,  we should perhaps factor in the prodigious effort made by Len McCluskey's Unite union to swell their numbers.  One BBC correspondent close to the campaign estimates that union spent £18 for every £3 member last summer. 

Yet the dispiriting fact is that you look in vain along either front bench in Westminster to see men and women radiating energy, competence and charisma.  It tells you a lot that the team Teresa May has fielded to tackle the most important job ever faced by a UK administration - negotiating the least damaging exit from Europe - consists of two retreads of dubious intellectual capacity, and a blustering bumbler whose lies and "jolly japes" have propelled him into the Foreign and Commonweath Office. Probably to his surprise as much as anyone else's. If this is Ms May's idea of clever revenge then we might have hoped she'd have found a route which didn't put the future of the country at risk while she was at it.

The current polls suggest two things: that Jeremy Corbyn will have an even greater victory with Labour's grassroots than before, and that if he's still around in 2020 (or for any general election called before then) he will have a catastrophic time at the polls.  And yes I do know Labour have won a couple of by elections and held on to some councils, but in the nasty big world of UK  general elections when warchests and campaigners are stretched thinner, you're fighting UKIP as well as the Tories, and Scotland seems to have largely given up on you,  it's full on countrywide war rather than local skirmishes.

It may be that those cheering for Jeremy rate purity of purpose the highest virtue in politics - and heaven knows they've had no shortage of Labour pretenders to put up with in recent times.

But it is no more than common sense to note that without winning power, those most in need of help remain unprotected. And that without a leader whom the UK nations as a whole can view as Prime Ministerial material you are unlikely to win power.  Ask Ed Miliband.