Tory grandee Ken Clarke believes Jeremy Corbyn could win the next general election if he becomes Labour leader.
In an exclusive interview with The Huffington Post UK, the former Chancellor warned his Tory colleagues that Mr Corbyn’s branch of left-wing populism would be hard to campaign against.
Mr Clarke, who also served as Home Secretary and Health Secretary, claimed the Islington North MP is not as left wing as former Labour leader Michael Foot, who led the party to its disastrous 1983 defeat.
Mr Corbyn has gone from being the outsider to the favourite in the race to become Labour leader.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK this afternoon, Mr Clarke said: “Don’t underestimate Jeremy Corbyn. He’s a nice guy.
“It’s not certain he will lose an election. Michael Foot, who stood on a much more left wing platform in 1983, was miles ahead before the election.
“If you have another recession or if the Conservative Government becomes very unpopular, he could win.
“In difficult times the party with the duty of government can become unpopular.
“He will be difficult to campaign against.”
Mr Clarke’s comments are likely to add further momentum to Mr Corbyn’s campaign.
Critics of the veteran left-winger claim he would be unable to put together a sufficient number of anti-Tory voters to win the next election, and that Labour needs to focus on wooing defectors from the Conservatives instead.
But Mr Clarke, who three times contested the leadership of his party, believes there could be a large enough “anti-Westminster” body of voters to sweep Mr Corbyn into power.
The Tory backbencher, who has been an MP since 1970, said he was “not as surprised as other people are” about the rise in popularity of Mr Corbyn and the splits it is causing in the Labour Party.
He said: “The Labour and trade union movement, ever since it started, has tended to have very different and warring wings.
“Blair is very unpopular in this country, and Jeremy Corbyn fits the bill of being anti-political.
“He’s regarded as a non-politicians answer to the Westminster establishment. Labour activists are very attracted to him because he sounds and looks like he believes what he says.”
Mr Clarke's comments come amid a row in the Labour Party over Mr Corbyn's economic plans.
One of the Islington North MP’s key pledges is to introduce so-called People’s Quantitative Easing to fund public sector projects across the country.
Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie claimed such a move would lead to an inflation hike which would disproportionality hit the poor, but Mr Corbyn’s economic guru Richard Murphy called the claim “simply wrong.”
Richard Burgon, Labour MP for Leeds East who is supporting Mr Corbyn in the leadership campaign, also hit out at being described as 'hard-left' by the media.
He said: “The fact is that neo-liberal economics has ruled the roost, regardless of which party’s been in power since about 1979 and who really thinks that’s worked in the interests of ordinary people? It’s strange that anyone who questions the economic consensus that has failed ordinary people is viewed as being slightly not sensible."