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This defeat does not mean Johnson is beaten

HAS there ever been a prime minister with a worse track record than Boris Johnson? 

A fop elected as a sop to a dwindling and ageing band of Conservative Party members, his time at the despatch box as premier adds up to no more hours than a night shift for an NHS nurse.

Yet he has already racked up four consecutive defeats in the House of Commons, managed to create an opposition Tory Party alongside the one he nominally leads, and has driven his brother out of ministerial office and Parliament.

He has been forced by numbers in both the Commons and the Lords to accept that Article 50 be extended. There may be worse humiliations than to be bested by Hilary Benn but not many.

And yet…

He is still a contender. This is not a knockout. He still retains some strategic reserves of strength and has been gifted some compelling lines by Labour’s confusion.

The Labour Party will be judged harshly by many of its natural supporters for the U-turn — forced by its parliamentary cohort — in dropping Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for an immediate election.

This opens the party up to ridicule, marginalises its programme and weakens the party’s appeal to those whose support it needs if it is to form a government.

Until an election is actually under way the bourgeois Brexiteers have a chicken stick to beat Labour with.

As the Sun showed yesterday this will be brought down on Corbyn’s head rather than the baggage train of Labour MPs — some in the shadow cabinet — who have frittered away the strategic advantage Labour held so long as it stood by Corbyn’s pledge to respect the referendum result.

Corbyn kept open the question of when he would prefer an election.

His bid, in his Prime Minister’s Question Time confrontation with Johnson and after — to keep open the prospect of an election timetable that would allow Labour to take command of the Brexit process rather than prolonging Johnson in office — goes some way to protecting Labour’s standing, even if Remainers, Brexiteers and Lexiteers might draw different conclusions from this.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer staked out one piece of political territory in suggesting that deferring implementation of Article 50 means the issue stays afloat beyond October 31.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry drifted without thought into never-never land to suggest Labour could wait a couple of weeks: “If we can give them a little bit of extra rope — just let them stay in power for a few more weeks, then people can see how bad they are” is her formula for inaction and indecision.

She must be living a protective bubble of extraordinary privilege to not understand that the lives that millions of working people live means they already know just how bad the Tories really are.

Just at the point when the Tory Party is in an agony of internal division, when it has lost its utility to what we might call the forces of continuity capitalism — the big business coalition that wants above all other considerations to keep Britain as closely aligned to the neoliberal EU as possible — Labour appears frit.

The parliamentary majority of Labour MPs who speculate that giving Johnson an extension in office means they can box him into going cap-in-hand to the EU to ask for more time means they can defer departure from the EU, fail to calculate the potential electoral consequences of this manoeuvre.

It gifts Johnson an audience with a key section of voters that Labour needs to form a government. And if Johnson is thus empowered, he will use that power.

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