Someone I know who I would never have thought would say anything like the following told me recently: “Getting Corbyn as prime minister for a bit is looking not as bad as what the Tories might be capable of doing, on Brexit and on other things as well.” This is the major danger the Tories are creating for themselves at present: they are making Corbyn look, well, if not good, at least a little safer and certainly less of an overall liability in the eyes of swing voters. This could develop into an insurmountable problem for the Tories if they aren’t careful.
Take this week. Corbyn bested May at PMQs by attacking the government on economic competence. With news out now that crime is significantly up, Corbyn could be attacking the Tories successfully on law and order next week. This is happening because the government has allowed itself to get ensnared in the wheels of its own poor choice of Brexit negotiating strategy. It is allowing Corbyn so much room to roam in opposition, even Jeremy Corbyn is taking advantage of it.
Or look at Corbyn’s speech in Brussels. He was able to give the impression to many that if it were all in his hands, things would be sorted by now, all while May has to beg to roll back on the manoeuvres she’s unsuccessfully trotted out already in the same town. It’s not because Corbyn has suddenly become a political genius – again, the Tories are just gifting him miles of space to take advantage of. The worst leader of the opposition ever – and Corbyn could qualify for the title – would be making hay right now.
The ultimate problem in all this for the Tories is the one I led with: that Corbyn begins to seem the lesser of two evils to many voters in the middle. If this goes on long enough, it will blunt every possible attack line the Conservatives would want to use in the next general election. Say that Corbyn and McDonnell represent a huge economic risk? Well, you guys crashed the economy. Corbyn represents a huge sea change in the way Britain operates, you say? Bigger than a “no deal” Brexit? I don’t think so. If we’re going to have massive change, why not a change of governing party? It couldn’t be any worse, right?
Of course, as ever, the answer for the Tories here is simple. What the EU wants from the negotiations is fairly straightforward. Give it to them, get a transitional deal locked down, or hell, don’t give it to them and go the Varoufakis route, claiming they have no right to kick us out of the single market until we’re ready to go, whatever calms the panic down. Then, get a new leader, start rebuilding. The longer the Tories refrain from doing all that, the more they gift to Corbyn and the harder it will be to claw the territory back again from Labour.