The former minister and adviser to Tony Blair offers his view in a private paper that circulated to political associates last week in which he urges them to dig in for the “long haul”.
In his paper, Lord Mandelson writes: “In choosing Corbyn instead of Ed Miliband, the general public now feel we are just putting two fingers up to them, exchanging one loser for an even worse one. We cannot be elected with Corbyn as leader.
“Nobody will replace him, though, until he demonstrates to the party his unelectability at the polls. In this sense, the public will decide Labour’s future and it would be wrong to try and force this issue from within before the public have moved to a clear verdict.”
The Mandelson paper represents perhaps the clearest distillation of the response of the routed Blairites and comes as Progress magazine says the baton must be handed on from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to a new Next Left generation working across the party.
Mandelson’s response comes as a Guardian account of the Labour leadership contest – to be published online on Friday morning – discloses:
• Supporters of Liz Kendall tried to arrange for her and then shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper to stand aside to give shadow health secretary Andy Burnham a clear run when it became apparent support for Corbyn was surging
• Cooper warned interim leader Harriet Harman that her decision not to oppose the welfare bill was handing Jeremy Corbyn victory and she threatened to quit the shadow cabinet if Harman refused to let Labour MPs vote against the welfare bill
• Supporters of Burnham believe he could have won the contest if he had quit the shadow cabinet over the welfare issue and say the episode was the turning point in his defeat.
• The Kendall team commissioned private YouGov polling as early as late June which showed the party membership opposed austerity and further spending cuts, making the Kendall team realise they were out of the running.
• Labour officials discovered nearly 20% of those joining the party as £3 registered supporters had no record of previously voting Labour.
• Corbyn himself had doubts about whether he would be a successful party leader and his team expected to secure only 20% of the vote at the outset.
Mandelson warned that he feared some moderates in that atmosphere would drift away from the party, leading to the party’s possible disintegration. But he makes clear that he does not think defections or the formation of a new party are the correct response to the Corbyn triumph.
He predicts that Corbyn’s supporters will be a force in the party who will not be quickly dissuaded from their support of him. “We need to acknowledge that those who supported him have invested a lot personally in Corbyn, we are not going to convince them overnight they were wrong and before then they will provide an army to draw on as they become absorbed into constituency parties.
“We are in for a long haul during which time the atmosphere in the party will become increasingly acrimonious at branch and constituency levels.”
He argues there is a mood among many grassroots moderates in the party “we’ll come back when the party gets its act together and is serious again”. Those people need to be given the chance to come together, he writes. “Without this, the party in the country will slowly disintegrate as mainstream people withdraw from elected party and local council office. We have to give them hope that there is a way out of our predicament and that Labour does have a future.”
The former spin doctor urges his wing of the party to acknowledge its mistakes, saying: “The old labels, totems and divisions have no use anymore; they are damaging and counter-productive.
“‘New Labour’, Blairites, Brownites – all these labels are redundant. They prevent us reaching out in the party and building essential new bridges. If we want people to listen to us, we must no longer look as if we are continuing past fights.
“The last five years’ intellectual sterility has left Labour floundering before an electorate that wanted to vote against the Tories but did not feel they were being offered a workable alternative.”
Although Mandelson says moderates in the party cannot begrudge Corbyn his success, he claims only a third of Corbyn’s support came from people who had been Labour members before May. The rest of his support was from those who got swept up by him rather than by any commitment to Labour as such.
Far from being a tidal wave of new, young idealists, he cites research showing that, overall, only 12% of his voters were under 24 years old. The bulk were retreaded Old Labourites who, together with people who voted Green at the election, gave Corbyn his victory. “This does not take away his success but it puts it into perspective and colours its legitimacy,” he concludes.
Separately, Corbyn said that he had not yet made up his mind whether he would kneel in front of the Queen when he takes part in the ceremony that will make him a privy counsellor. Giving what he described as an “honest answer” to ITV News, Corbyn said he had yet to receive a formal invitation to the ceremony.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th September 2015 07.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010