For most people outside the Labour Party membership, including traditional Labour supporters, the election of a new leader will resonate less as the beginning of the Keir Starmer (presumably) era than as the end of the Jeremy Corbyn aberration. To that extent, the departure of Corbyn can be seen as a step forward for Labour, if hardly a bounce. But all the evidence suggests that, beyond the passive advantage of sloughing off a leader whose tenure of the post made the days of Michael Foot look like a golden age for Labour, the party faces a gargantuan challenge in recovering electoral credibility and before that being a proper opposition..

In a media-driven culture of personality politics Keir Starmer (the near-certain winner of the leadership contest) will find himself at a disadvantage, especially when confronting Boris Johnson, the only man who could progress from a cartoon situation, suspended in mid-air on a safety-harness, through the door of Number 10. In the words of one of Starmer’s parliamentary colleagues: “Let’s be honest, he can be bloody boring.” Labour’s most urgent need is to find an identity. It had one under Jeremy Corbyn, but its sub-Venezuelan, some-of-my-best-friends-are-Provos extravagance was toxic. So, in what direction could Keir Starmer be expected to take Labour?

Superficially, his background appears Blairite – knighthood, former Director of Public Prosecutions – but the informed consensus is he has no fixed beliefs beyond a ruthless determination to advance his interests. While that did not damage the career of Tony Blair, it seems unlikely that Starmer could secure electoral lift-off by continuing the fudged, all-things-to-all-voters facade he maintained throughout the leadership election for a further four years in opposition.

The reality is that Labour, as currently constituted, is un-leadable: it resembles a sackful of fighting stoats rather than an alternative government. If Starmer wants to succeed he has no alternative but to purge his party of the anti-democratic hard left, following the examples of Hugh Gaitskell and Neil Kinnock. Labour has a patriotic tradition to draw on.

Yet even if he finds the courage to take firm action, the mechanics would be tortuous, perhaps impossible: the left’s skill in capturing the commanding heights of political institutions makes the fanatics very difficult to dislodge.

There is also the disadvantage that the new leader’s emergence is occurring at so distracted a time that it will go largely unnoticed by a public preoccupied with self-preservation. The Conservatives, too, are benefiting from a surge of public support, at 54 per cent in a recent opinion poll, with a massive lead of 28 points over Labour. Yet any politically acute Labour leader should be able to discern potential opportunities in the situation.

Better, from Labour’s perspective, to be 28 points behind now than at an election in four years’ time. The instinctive public rallying to the government during an unprecedented national emergency is almost certainly time-limited. If government health strategies flounder, if the death toll escalates alarmingly or lockdown fatigue sets in, then early deficiencies in the state’s response to the epidemic may be recalled to the public mind. We are unquestionably headed for an economic recession on a scale that will make the events of 2008 look minor, and poverty and unemployment never make a government popular.

If Labour were to embrace the maxim “You never let a serious crisis go to waste”, articulated by Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s chief of staff, channelling Machiavelli, that cynical strategy could conceivably put the party back in serious electoral contention, depending on how events unfold. Her Majesty’s Opposition will have two bites at the cherry: first, the government’s handling of the health crisis and secondly – and probably more dangerously – its management of the economic meltdown. Juggling the competing claims of corporations, taxpayers and recently converted Red Wall voters will be a nightmare for the Tories.

None of that will be of the least assistance to Labour unless it grows up and expels the student union Trots who made it unelectable last year.

It is no use Labour figures such as Lisa Nandy, a candidate in the interminable leadership contest, saying that the party must heal divisions and unite. That is wishful thinking. The most extreme elements of the Corbynite far left champion ideas – on state control, on the destruction of the market economy, on foreign policy and on anti-Semitism – that are incompatible with mainstream politics and popular appeal. If Starmer wants to be taken seriously, he’ll have to drive out the worst of the Corbynites.