What happens if Corbyn wins?

Written by Dan Hodges on 31 July 2015 in Opinion
Should Jeremy Corbyn triumph, three important events would have to take place before he could be unseated

It could all still come to a juddering halt, this Corbyn bandwagon. There are still six weeks of the contest to run. A long time for an untried and untested candidate to maintain momentum. And anyway, momentum is an overrated political concept. Cleggmania. Faragemania. Each phenomenon blazed, and then faded.

But there are no signs of it fading at the moment. The cascading dominoes of the trade unions have given his campaign a fresh boost. The statements coming out of the rival campaigns clearly demonstrate Corbyn is now seen as the front-runner. A status reinforced by the pollsters and the bookies and worried Labour MPs.

So what if it never fades? If the bandwagon rolls all the way on to the Labour party special conference on 12 September? If Jeremy Corbyn is elected Labour leader, what does the Labour party do next?

First, it will immolate itself. Which may actually be no bad thing. Although he was supposedly granted access to the contest to furnish a debate, Jeremy Corbyn’s inclusion has actually had the effect of neutering it. The leadership candidates - terrified by the sheer mass of the angry mob of Labour activists who have fallen into step behind him - have attempted to placate Corbyn, rather than confront him. Indeed, the entire Labour movement appears to have been paralysed by the spectacle of the Old Left on the march.

If Corbyn wins, that paralysis will end. It has to. The modernising and pragmatic elements within Labour’s ranks will have no option but to fight, or watch their party die.

The issue is how will they fight, and what will they fight with? There has been a lot of talk about an immediate move to unseat Jeremy Corbyn if he triumphs. Bold talk, not necessarily backed up by bold deeds.

To confront Corbyn, Labour MPs will have to be prepared to confront their own local party members, a majority of whom - by definition - will just have anointed him their leader. It’s hard to see many MPs being up for such a confrontation, at least not in the short term.

More likely is a boycott of the shadow cabinet. Many current shadow cabinet members would be unable to stomach serving as junior partners in the great Corbynite project. But even here, there would not necessarily be a unified front.

Those shadow ministers who still harbored leadership ambitions of their own may want to position themselves as potential “unifiers” in any future contest. And the lure of shadow cabinet elections - which Corbyn has promised to re-introduce - could well prove irresistible to a number of junior ministers and wannabe ministers.

But the fightback will eventually begin. Though three important events will have to take place first.

The first is that the anti-Corbyn faction will need to re-brand. A failed leadership challenge by Yvette Cooper would have officially marked the end of the old Brownite grip on the party, and the organisational acumen that delivered Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband the leadership. Liz Kendall’s failed challenge will also officially draw the line under Blairism. No candidate who runs as a Blairite will ever lead Labour again.

The second is that the modernisers and pragmatists and elements of the soft-Left that have not fallen for Corbyn’s charms will have to agree to bury the hatchet. Then they will have to agree what they will do when they have buried it in their new leader.

There will be no point in Labour going through the trauma of removing its leader, only to go repeat the process all over again in 18 months time. Corbyn’s removal of itself will not be enough. It will need to be accompanied by a clear alternative prospectus for returning Labour to power. And the broad terms of that prospectus will have to have been thrashed out before the move against Corbyn is made.

And then comes the difficult part. Labour’s New Pragmatists will have to agree on a new leader. And such a figure will not necessarily be easy to find. At the moment the preference appears to be for a caretaker. A grey beard who can knock heads together and start to pull the party back into some sort of shape. Alan Johnson, in other words.

But even if Johnson could be persuaded to abandon his cozy sinecure as the-only-man-who-can-save-Labour, that would not necessarily heal the wounds.

Though he may stabilize things, few see any serious prospect of Johnson competing with George Osborne or Boris Johnson for power in 2020. At which point the Left, emboldened by the myth of the “Corbyn betrayal” -  which to be fair, would at least have some validity on this occasion - would strike back. Hence whispers about Dan Jarvis, Rachel Reeves (now it really, really is time for a women leader), Chuka Umunna or even David Miliband stepping forward.

Which only goes to further underline the problem. If none of these people were ready to challenge Jeremy Corbyn now, how will they be ready by September?

It could all still come to a juddering halt. And if it doesn’t, then there is no prospect of Jeremy Corbyn leading his party into a general election campaign. But it may only be when Jeremy Corbyn is removed as Labour leader that his party’s troubles really begin.


Tags: Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leadership contest

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