Once Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the Labour Party (let’s just stop saying “if”, shall we?), he’s going to face the problem that confronts all socialist leaders at some point: it’s all going to go horribly pear-shaped as reality sets in. His party won’t listen to the serial rebel, and a strange bond in the House of Commons could be quickly formed by the frontbenches of the Conservative Party and the backbenches of the Labour Party in a bid to run the country somewhat sensibly in the midst of what I’ll call the Corbyn-Redwood axis of madness. Those same Labour backbenchers will in the meantime be waiting for dear Jeremy to fail, willing him to do so even, in the hopes that the whole thing can be straightened out in time to salvage something for the next general election.
When faced with the “pear-shape dilemma”, history tells us you have two options. You can allow things to take their course and simply watch as it all falls apart. Or you can go all Stalin on everyone and keep discipline and the show on the road via ruthless, Machiavellian tactics. You enact totalitarianism, in other words. In Tom Watson, Corbyn might have the perfect Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili character to carry this dirty work out.
This isn’t anything to do with the morality of either Corbyn or Watson, I’d rush to add. I know that for all his faults, Tom Watson is actually a pretty morally guided individual and I’m sure I would have more politically in common with him than Jeremy. However, Corbyn is a dreamer in the Leon Trotsky mould; someone who thinks if you simply will something, it will all come together magically. Watson, meanwhile, is a hard-headed realist who will immediately spot the nightmare ahead.
Watson’s main concern will be keeping the party in one piece. So I can’t see how anything other than sworn, public loyalty to the new chairman of the comrades will be tolerated. I could be exactly wrong about this, of course, and Watson could go the other way and bide his time for a few months before sticking the knife into Corbyn himself. Taking the analogy to its conclusion, does this mean I think Jeremy is going to end up with an ice pick embedded in his forehead somewhere in Mexico? I doubt even the murky world of Labour politics could get that literally murderous.
But seriously, the thing that would stop Watson trying to stage a coup, I think anyhow, is the basic boundaries of democracy. What I mean specifically is that Watson must know he would never be elected leader himself and that his best chance of remaining powerful within the Labour Party is to simply ride the Corbyn wave and when it crashes, hold himself up as the tireless manager who at least ran a tight ship after the hippies took over. As the pieces were rummaged through, the crime scene examined, Watson would be in a strong position. Particularly as he of all people knows just how hard it is to successfully commit regicide within the Labour Party. In a world of madmen, the guy with the only slightly crippling neurosis is king.