The music’s ended for Corbyn but he’s still in the chair, says Roger Ratcliffe

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The hottest movie ticket for weeks has been La La Land, an all-singing all-dancing musical about a man and woman pursuing their dreams in a city famous for breaking hearts. Spoiler alert: it is not about the current Westminster woes of the Labour Party, which is commonly held to be living in La La Land.

If British TV satire was as good as it used to be a couple of decades ago we would all be howling at the spectacle of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott leaping around like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. And stage right, the massed ranks of Labour MPs – most of whom think Corbyn couldn’t win a Blue Peter Badge, never mind an election – would be singing with forlorn hope Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

It is easy to write cruel things about Labour. But the truth is the party’s so split it has become a cardboard cut-out opposition to an increasingly brutal Conservative government. Everyone but the small clique in Corbyn’s bunker knows full well the leader himself is strangling the party with his doomed ideological crusade. Stephen Hawking is the latest figure to publicly call him a disaster.

Given that the north of England is considered Labour’s heartland, it was particularly disastrous the party should lose the Copeland by-election in Cumbria to the Tories. And it was no surprise to learn that the takeaway from this historic defeat was that Corbyn was the problem. “The Tories didn’t win it, Corbyn lost it,” is the final judgement. On the doorstep, voter after voter thought he was weak and looked shifty under pressure.

But who can replace him? Cometh the hour, cometh the man or woman and all that. Unfortunately, this is where the story gets even gloomier because no one looks capable of uniting the party. Capable candidates are staying particularly well clear of bargepoles – people like Hilary Benn, Alan Johnson, Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis – and you can’t blame them. They would face a task similar to combining Manchester United and Manchester City into one superclub although now, such is Labour’s demise, a better analogy might be a marriage of lower league clubs like Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.

Perhaps desperate times require desperate measures. It’s a shame that once-rising Labour star Tristram Hunt threw in the towel and triggered the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. As a doctor of philosophy with a low profile beyond political anoraks, Tristram might’ve made an ideal leader once the tabloids labelled him Doctor Who. Can you see the electoral magic in that? I mean, if voters in the United States can elect a kick-ass reality TV star as president, surely Britain’s Time Lord would be a shoo-in to Number 10.

I’m joking, obviously, but perhaps a TV personality would be worth a million votes. I know it hasn’t worked for Labour in the past, with former leader Michael Foot caricatured as the scarecrow Wurzel Gummidge, and Gordon Brown famously described as Mr Bean. But after his success on Strictly Come Dancing could it be Ed Balls’s cue to shimmy back into the political spotlight? Sadly, no. We’d be back to cartoons of Labour in La La Land.

It is a mess, and I wouldn’t bet against a general election this year.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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