Jeremy Corbyn is “unelectable” to the British public, but “unassailable” as leader of the Labour Party, Peter Mandelson has declared.
The former Cabinet minister and close ally of Tony Blair told the New Yorker magazine that Corbyn was so popular among party members that he could not be removed.
Some Labour MPs still believe that the Labour leader can be toppled by a leadership challenge at some point before the 2020 general election, but Lord Mandelson signalled that such thoughts are impossible.
“We are in a situation now where he is unelectable in the country but unassailable in the Party,” Mandelson told the magazine.
Corbyn was elected by a landslide in the 2015 leadership race, winning nearly 60% of the votes of party members and trade union supporters.
Polls suggest that he would have an even bigger lead if he were allowed to stand again as leader.
But Mandelson's remarks came as a new ICM/Guardian poll gave the Tories a two-point lead: Conservative 34%; Labour 32%; Ukip 17%; Liberal Democrats 7%; Scottish Nationalists 5%; Greens 4%.
A poll of polls put the Tories on 35.8% and Labour on 32.4%. At the same point in the last Parliament, Labour led by 3.6%.
The New Yorker profile also saw Corbyn admit that his close aides believed he did not spend long enough preparing for Prime Minister’s Question Time.
“I am not particularly good at or interested in this theatrical-riposte stuff,” he told the New Yorker.
When asked how long he takes to prepare, he replied: “Everybody in the office says not enough. Everybody.”
And the Labour leader made clear that if he did get to No.10, he would have a completely different approach to being Prime Minister, stressing he would only be one part of a Labour government.
When asked what Britain might look like ‘under a Jeremy Corbyn governemnt’, he replied: “Well, it is not going to be ‘under Jeremy Corbyn’.
“I am hoping there will be a Labour Government, of which I will be obviously a big part. But it’s about empowering people. That is what democracy is about. Is it going to be complicated? Sure. Is it going to be difficult? Absolutely. Are we going to achieve things? Oh, yes.”
In the New Yorker profile, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also joked that he and Corbyn were determined to see “the end of capitalism”.
When asked to say how improbable it was that he and Corbyn were now in charge of Labour, McDonnell quoted Fredric Jameson, an American literary theorist and Marxist scholar.
“It is easier for people to imagine the end of the earth than it is to imagine the end of capitalism,” he said. “And that is what we are about, aren’t we?”
Tariq Ali, a long-time friend and left-wing ally of Corbyn, said the Labour leader would “without any doubt” have been at anti-EU rallies if he were not in his current post: “Jeremy is completely opposed to the E.U.”
And Momentum chief Jon Lansman said: “He is not a strategy person. He is a doer, really.”
Another friend, Bob Clay, a former Labour MP who shared an office with Corbyn in the 1980s, added: “I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but it is maybe a bit of a fault—he is something of a gadfly”.
“He is just more an originator of good ideas rather than someone who sees them through.”