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Unforgiving spotlight on Jeremy Corbyn

Even in a period of unprecedented political upheaval, it would be verging on the astonishing if Jeremy Corbyn, after a lifetime on the opposition benches, was shortly to become UK prime minister.

The prospect cannot be ruled out, as Mr Corbyn, who failed to gain a post in any previous Labour administration, managed to secure the party's leadership against the odds in 2015 and then came close to a dramatic victory in the general election two years later.

However, the reality is that Mr Corbyn, now aged 70, has been stumbling from one crisis to another recently and opinion polls consistently show Labour trailing well behind arguably the most inept government in living memory.

The party conference which is under way in Brighton has been surrounded by bitter internal disagreements, under a leader seemingly incapable of exercising his authority.

There is a strong feeling that if he was to stand down in favour of a more mainstream figure like Keir Starmer or Emily Thornberry, Labour would be practically assured of a swift return to power with a commanding majority.

Mr Corbyn insists that he intends to fight on, but he caused particular embarrassment last week by admitting that he had got his words wrong when he appeared to reject the crucial backstop measure.

It was not the first occasion on which he had displayed confusion over the same issue and his position in declaring that there is an overwhelming need for a second Brexit referendum but refusing to say how he would vote in any such contest is equally perturbing.

There can be little doubt that he privately backs withdrawal from the EU but lacks the political courage to put his views to the electorate on the question which is going to define his term of office as Labour leader.

It all creates a scenario in which it is increasingly likely that the Liberal Democrats, as strong advocates of opposing Brexit, will make significant gains from Labour, while Boris Johnson almost by default is handed another period in Downing Street with calamitous consequences for Ireland, north and south.

Mr Corbyn has much to consider as he prepares for his address on Wednesday to a party conference surrounded by contradictions and uncertainties.

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