Tory papers, perhaps out to make trouble, are reporting this weekend that veteran left winger Jeremy Corbyn is ahead in private polling for the Labour leadership.

I don’t think it will happen but the speculation has been fuelled by the sort of thing that happened on the Victoria Derbyshire debate on BBC 2 this week. In front of an audience of potential, former and current Labour voters three of the four candidates faced a struggle to convince the audience that they were worth voting for. Time and again Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall set out their policy stances, but back came the same response that they weren’t inspiring people to vote Labour. Only Jeremy Corbyn got real gutsy rounds of applause when he called for a fight against austerity.

Sadly Liz Kendall seems to be trailing badly with her pro business stance and insistence on cutting the deficit. Andy Burnham is campaigning against the London based elite that he says has run the party for years, but he’s burdened by his past record on letting private firms into the health service. Yvette Cooper is banking on saying little, relying on her Cabinet experience as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The problem for these three is that they are swimming against a left wing tide in the party that we have not seen since Michael Foot was elected leader in 1980. It was not a rational response to the election of Margaret Thatcher then, and is unlikely to be the right response to Cameron’s victory now. However the activists in the party have a right to express their views and elect who they want. Corbyn is catching that mood and the other three candidates are struggling with their various policy nuances, but with the basic belief that the deficit must be reduced and the Tories have caught the public mood on benefits.

Harriet Harman has hardly put a foot wrong in her long career. She has always kept in touch with the party mood and been popular with her commitment to women. It was therefore quite startling that at the very end of her time in front line politics she should have advocated a humiliating cave in to the Tories welfare reforms.

It posed one of the most difficult questions of our time, what is Labour for? Corbyn has his answer, fight austerity, support large families and ban nuclear weapons. The other three candidates have more complicated answers because they believe that is where Labour has to be to win back middle England.

Middle England, the elusive prize for Labour. What would they feel about Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party? They would be more comfortable with a telegenic Burnham or perhaps a woman leading the party for the first time in Kendall or Cooper.

Meanwhile the Tories drive support to Corbyn with their latest proposals on strike ballots and having to opt into levy payments to the Labour Party. That goes down well in Middle and South East England where the tube strike wrecked havoc with people’s lives last week. But it angers grass roots Labour who feel they want to lash out, perhaps elect Corbyn and to hell with the consequences.

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