If you think some of the coverage of the Corbyn surge in the UK press has been a tad hysterical, you should check out a mad rant by The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan, which includes this gem -
"[Corbyn] is the frontrunner to be the new leader of the British Labour Party. This is a truly dismal prospect. But first a word on process. Only a mad process could produce a potential result as mad as this."
Really? Is it true that Corbyn could not possibly win under any "non-mad" electoral process? Let's consider the possibilities...
1) The current system as nature intended. Some people argue that if only MPs who support "mainstream" candidates hadn't inexplicably nominated Corbyn, the parliamentary veto system would have worked as intended and Corbyn's candidacy would have been blocked. The snag is, though, that the caricature of a hopelessly naive MP wanting to "broaden the debate" is in most cases bogus. These people generally had some kind of self-interested motive (currying favour with local left-wing activists, seeking London mayoral votes, etc, etc). In any case, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and now that it's been demonstrated that there is widespread support for a radical left candidate, the pressure on MPs to nominate at least one such person in future contests will be irresistible.
2) A straight one person, one vote system restricted to full party members only. Probably wouldn't have made much difference - according to the most recent YouGov poll, Corbyn would have a lead over Cooper of 57% to 43% in the final run-off if only members had been given the vote.
3) A one person, one vote system restricted to people who have been full members for at least five years. This could hardly be called a 'natural' system, but even such a drastic attempt at gerrymandering might not have done the trick - YouGov have the race as a statistical tie between Corbyn and Cooper among people who have been members since before Ed Miliband became leader.
4) The old electoral college. Corbyn would have had a mountain to climb, given that the one-third section of the college reserved for parliamentarians would have practically voted as a bloc against him. But remarkably, his lead among members and affiliates looks so substantial that he might well have had a chance of climbing that mountain. It would have been tight.
5) A return to the old MPs-only vote (no longer used by any UK party). This certainly would have stopped Corbyn - but it wouldn't have precluded the possibility of other results that Mr Sheridan would doubtless consider "mad". In 1980, Michael Foot defeated Denis Healey to become Labour leader - and he did it by 139 votes to 129 in the party's last ever MPs-only vote.
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While I'm at it, I may as well run through some of the factual inaccuracies in Mr Sheridan's piece, because there's an impressively long list of them.
"In the last British Labour leadership election there was a new and odious system, a three-way electoral college — one-third of votes for MPs, one-third for affiliated unions and one-third for rank-and-file party members."
I'm not sure how that can be called a "new system", given that it was first used for Tony Blair's election as leader in 1994. It was a modified version of a system that dated back to Denis Healey's famous win over Tony Benn in the deputy leadership contest of 1981 - previously the split was 40% for trade unions (voting as a bloc), 30% for members and 30% for MPs. Both Neil Kinnock and John Smith were elected leader on that basis.
"But in Britain, with no tradition of [a US-style primary system], the system is ripe for manipulation by a tiny activist minority."
This tiny activist minority makes up almost 1% of the entire population of the UK.
"Tony Blair, the only man in 60-odd years to win clear parliamentary majorities for British Labour..."
Harold Wilson won a majority of 96 in the 1966 general election.
"There are, of course, plenty of specific British factors at work here. Labour lost Scotland, which was not only a huge chunk of its old core vote but a part of its vote that kept it in some measure tethered to reality, because Scotland was a place where to some extent it actually ruled."
That claim sounds superficially credible, until you remember that there has never been any time in history when Labour was in power in Scotland but not in the UK. The Scottish Parliament hasn't been around for long enough for that to be the case.
But apart from all these minor quibbles, what a fabulously well-researched article, Mr Sheridan.