The Labour blogger and activist Luke Akehurst has gone on an interesting 'journey' during his party's leadership election. While nominations were underway, he openly called on Labour MPs to tactically nominate Jeremy Corbyn, so that members were not denied a chance to vote for or against the important current of opinion that Corbyn represents. He said that this was a matter of "mutual respect", because left-wing members worked just as hard for Labour as anyone else during the general election. He wanted to avoid resentment caused by the belief that Corbyn would have won if only it hadn't been for a stitch-up from the nefarious parliamentary party. And lastly, he claimed he had sufficient confidence in the superiority of his ideas to know he and those of like mind would defeat Corbyn in a fair and open contest.
But since succeeding in getting Corbyn onto the ballot, Akehurst has gone on TV to issue a desperate plea to supporters of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall to use their lower preference votes in a tactical way to prevent Corbyn from winning. Now, to be fair, there is no direct contradiction here, because preferential voting is part of the process, and is a perfectly legitimate way of defeating Corbyn "fair and square". But many of Akehurst's colleagues are going much further, by either demanding that the contest be called off (on the spurious grounds that the Daily Telegraph are trying to rig it in Corbyn's favour), or by plotting Corbyn's quick downfall if he emerges as leader.
The irony is that if these people had only been able to contain their panic, Akehurst's original plan would probably have worked beautifully. Corbyn's presence is energising the campaign, making the left feel less marginalised (at least for the time being), and yet he probably isn't going to win - the likelihood is that he will finish either second or third. The right-wing zealots are tossing all these gains away, because regardless of whether Corbyn wins or loses, his supporters will now know that there were many MPs who were quite prepared to subvert the rules to prevent him becoming leader. That's a million times worse than simply using the existing rules to keep him off the ballot paper in the first place.
Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if the left had threatened an internal party coup in the event of Denis Healey being elected leader in 1980, or Roy Hattersley in 1983? The press would have been screaming about a sinister threat to British democracy, and I'm struggling to see what the difference is here. The cornerstone of democratic values is an acceptance that if the other guy gets more votes than you, he wins - even if you think he is wrong about absolutely everything. Even if you think he's "dangerous" or whatever, he still wins. It's high time that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall made a binding commitment that they and their supporters will accept the outcome of the election, regardless of what it is. If they fail to do so, Labour may never recover from the fallout.
Incidentally, all this stuff about the Daily Telegraph trying to fix the contest would have a lot more credibility if they weren't sabotaging their own efforts with characteristic stupidity. They're suggesting that people who register as Labour supporters to vote for Corbyn should tell the party they're doing so to "consign Labour to electoral oblivion". Don't you think it's just possible that those people will be weeded out rather easily?