With Labour’s narrow victory in Peterborough, Jeremy Corbyn has edged closer to 10 Downing Street.
It is true that the party’s share of the vote dropped dramatically, continuing a process in which it has shrunk by a third since 2017.
It’s also true that the Labour candidate, Lisa Forbes, has had to deal with awkward questions about the fact that she appeared to ‘like’ Facebook posts endorsing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Labour today treats its working-class base with an indifference that is not far from outright contempt. Nothing shows this more clearly than Corbyn’s performance at the demonstration against the visit of Donald Trump
Yet this does not alter the reality that must be faced. Losing a quarter of their share of the vote, the Conservatives ended up in third place. If anything like that happens in a General Election, Corbyn could still form the next Government.
In all the jockeying for position in the Conservative leadership campaign, it seems to have been forgotten that the future of Britain is now at stake.
Corbyn and his closest advisers will take the Peterborough result as showing that their mealy-mouthed stance on Brexit has worked.
They will go on with what they call ‘constructive ambiguity’ – in other words, fudging the issue in order to cover up their own divisions – because they believe it offers the safest way to power.
Corbyn, above, has been accused of hypocrisy in denouncing Trump while ignoring despots such as China’s Xi Jinping. But hypocrisy involves asserting something to be true that you know to be false, and there is no evidence that Corbyn has ever considered the possibility that he might be mistaken in any of his beliefs
Nothing can be done in British politics until Brexit is resolved, and Labour will continue to duck and dodge the issue in the belief that the Tory Party will destroy itself through its own internal conflicts.
But in the aftermath of the European elections, some things have changed.
The Brexit Party has revealed the distance between Labour and working-class voters.
From the time it was founded at the start of the 20th Century, Labour was a coalition between ordinary working people and progressive intellectuals. For much of the time, they had the same goals – a decent welfare state and workers’ rights.
Lying behind these objectives was a more fundamental commitment. Labour respected the working class and regarded itself as their voice.
This is no longer the case. Labour today treats its working-class base with an indifference that is not far from outright contempt.
The closure of British Steel spells catastrophe for Scunthorpe and the surrounding region. After such a setback for Labour, Corbyn has chosen to forget that Scunthorpe is a marginal Labour seat. He would have been better employed addressing the disaster that is engulfing the town
Nothing shows this more clearly than Corbyn’s performance at the demonstration against the visit of Donald Trump.
There was nothing surprising in anything he said. Ever since his view of the world was formed in the 1960s, he has regarded the United States as the Great Satan. Now, as then, he believes that American imperialism is the root of all the world’s crimes and evils.
He has been accused of hypocrisy in denouncing Trump while ignoring despots such as China’s Xi Jinping.
But hypocrisy involves asserting something to be true that you know to be false, and there is no evidence that Corbyn has ever considered the possibility that he might be mistaken in any of his beliefs.
He simply goes on saying what he has always said, regardless of facts.
Corbyn and his closest advisers will take the Peterborough result as showing that their mealy-mouthed stance on Brexit has worked. He is pictured with Lisa Forbes, the Labour MP-elect who won the local by-election this week
What is remarkable is that Corbyn chose to stage his anti-American diatribe while some of Labour’s traditional supporters are in such desperate difficulties.
The closure of British Steel spells catastrophe for Scunthorpe and the surrounding region.
And Labour came third in the European elections in Wales, dropping more than 15 per cent in the vote, while the Brexit Party was the clear winner, gaining 12 per cent more of the vote than second-placed Plaid Cymru.
After such a setback for Labour, Corbyn has chosen to forget that Scunthorpe is a marginal Labour seat. He would have been better employed addressing the disaster that is engulfing the town.
Instead, he opted to bark tired Leftish slogans at an applauding metropolitan rabble who think that showing Trump on a toilet seat is an arresting contribution to public debate.
It is hard to see Corbyn’s performance as anything other than a slap in the face for the Labour voters whose livelihoods are at risk.
There was nothing surprising in anything (Jeremy Corbyn, pictured above at last week’s protest) said. Ever since his view of the world was formed in the 1960s, he has regarded the United States as the Great Satan
The party that Corbyn will lead in a General Election that could come in the autumn is no longer a Labour party of any kind.
At best, the leadership views working-class communities with condescension, and increasingly with barely concealed disdain. This is not a shift that has occurred only in relation to Brexit.
True, Leave supporters are routinely attacked as racists and bigots. Their demand for self-government is condemned as narrow and backward nationalism – far inferior to the high-minded progressive nationalism that is celebrated by cranks in strange costumes who wave EU flags outside Parliament.
Writing off the Brexit Party because it just missed taking Peterborough would be a huge mistake. Nigel Farage is pictured delivering a letter to Downing Street requesting to include Brexit Party members in EU negotiations
But contempt for working people transcends Brexit. Viewing them in Soviet style as ignorant masses in need of re-education, the Eurosceptic ultra-Leftists who form Corbyn’s inner circle are equally patronising.
That is one reason why the Brexit Party has made its large advances. Millions of ordinary workers realise that Labour is no longer on their side.
Writing off the Brexit Party because it just missed taking Peterborough would be a huge mistake. Whether or not the party gains seats in a General Election – and it still could – it has changed British politics.
If Labour now tilts towards Remain, as moderates demand, it will only highlight the party’s intractable problems.
Why should Labour MPs in Leave constituencies allow themselves to be thrown under Nigel Farage’s bus?
And while Corbyn and his gang are in charge, what likelihood can there be that Labour Remainers who have defected to the Liberal Democrats will return in large enough numbers to make such a tilt worthwhile?
There is no comfort for the Conservatives in any of this. As many have commented, the rise of the Brexit Party has clearly increased the risk of a Corbyn government. Votes for Farage are votes lost to the Tories.
The converse is less often recognised. In the next General Election, the Tories can avoid defeat, even a wipe-out, only if they can bring back those votes. That means the new leader can only be a strong Brexiteer.
As Change UK discovered when they went off in search of a non-existent majority that thinks like themselves, what is imagined in Westminster to be the centre ground is in fact a bottomless pit.
Looking for a leader who can bridge Leave and Remain in the country at this point is a fast track to oblivion. In the Tory struggle to avert extinction, Corbyn can be stopped only by stopping Farage.
Boris Johnson has been gaining momentum because he has combined hard Brexitry – a promise to leave at the end of October, deal or no deal – with an appeal to those in the party who fear ideological extremes.
Some Tories in the One Nation Group, founded by Amber Rudd, may believe Johnson to be a resourceful pragmatist. Others may recognise in him a fathomless opportunist. Either way, they are betting he can unpick the knot of Brexit.
Seeing him as the last best chance of a clean break with the EU, some in the hard-Brexit European Reform Group (ERG) will be tempted to do the same.
Whether he can pull off the conjuring trick remains to be seen.
The timetable is tight. A tweaked and rebranded withdrawal agreement may not go through the Commons and the EU could decide it has had enough of Brexit.
It takes only one European country from 27 to veto any further extension of Article 50. Even if Johnson plans to avoid it at any cost, no deal may happen anyway.
Seeing Boris Johnson, above, as the last best chance of a clean break with the EU, some in the hard-Brexit European Reform Group (ERG) will be tempted to do the same. Whether he can pull off the conjuring trick remains to be seen. The timetable is tight
What is clear is that if the next Tory leader does not deliver Brexit, one way or another, Farage’s surge will continue, and the risk of Corbyn walking through the door at No 10 will grow. Labour is not yet on the brink of victory, but the Conservatives need a greater sense of urgency if they are to avoid letting Corbyn in by default.
A government led by him would mean the end of Britain’s post-war alliances, and, as the Health Secretary and Tory leadership contender Matt Hancock is reported to have said, the first anti-Semitic Western leader since 1945.
Britain’s place in the world would be irreversibly changed. The tolerant society that existed in this country, with all its faults, would soon be a fading memory.
Tony Blair has declared that in a run-off between Corbyn and Johnson, the Tory would win.
Right-wing populism always wins in a struggle with populism on the Left. It is a shrewd judgment.
But populism is only a new- fangled name for the disorientation of old parties, and this is what the Conservatives are suffering from at present.
The new party Corbyn has created has many weaknesses. But it could yet win power if the Tories do not stop playing silly games and grasp the existential threat it poses to them and Britain itself. That is the real lesson of Peterborough.