Why Jeremy Corbyn will still be Labour leader in 2020
A lot of commentators are making an assumption that Jeremy Corbyn will be deposed in a coup in a year or so. But having considered the mechanics of such a move, there would appear to be three main hurdles to anyone replacing Corbyn.
Firstly, the moderates have to unite around one candidate, one of the reasons for their defeat was that the centrist vote was split three ways. But who could be the unity candidate? Andy Burnham has said he wont stand again, Liz Kendall, with 4.5% of the vote, is clearly not going to work. Yvette Cooper only got 17% and is not a galvanising character.
What about people who didn’t stand this time round? Chuka Umunna pulled out of the contest after a couple of days saying he couldn’t stand the media pressure. Some people have suggested that in fact he is more interested in representing the Chuka Umunna party and in fact he just didn’t think the time was right to win. Either way his performance was not inspiring and anyway he is from the right of the party that is not going to win any election with the activists for a long time.
Dan Jarvis? Yes, he has an interesting biography but he was only elected in 2010, has never held even a shadow cabinet post and has no big following in the party or union backing. Finally, Tristram Hunt cannot become leader of the Labour party for the simple reason that he is called Tristram.
Assuming that a moderate unity candidate could be found, let’s think about the second and third hurdles: the difficulty of challenging Corbyn and the poor prospects this would create for Labour in the 2020 election.
Jeremy Corbyn has just competed under the most democratic election system that Labour has ever held and has won the biggest ever mandate of a leader. People are not supposed to win preferential voting system elections in the first round and he smashed his opponents, winning in all three categories of voters. No one can say that he does not have an overwhelming mandate to run the Labour party.
A challenge to him might arise in nine months’ time after the Scottish, Welsh and London mayoral elections in May 2016, depending on how Labour does in them. To trigger a challenge requires 20% of the PLP (46 MPs) which would be easy to find because Corbyn only has the active support of 6% of MPs (ie the 14 in the Socialist Campaign Group). So triggering a challenge would be easy but winning it would be very difficult because the PLP is now at war with its activist base.
Under Labour rules Corbyn would automatically go on the ballot and the election would then be rerun on the same process that has just handed him a landslide. Why would the result be any different? The 60% of activists who have just voted for Corbyn are clearly not bothered about winning elections, otherwise why would they have voted for him? They are thinking with their hearts and just enjoying a sense of moral superiority. All the rational arguments that have been fired at them by Blair, Brown etc over the last month have just bounced off so why would bombarding them with stats about election results make any difference? They are clearly impervious to reason and telling a bunch of righteous people that they are not right just winds them up.
The other big problem with a challenge is that a contender would be seen by activists as stabbing the leader in the back and would start a vicious civil war inside the party. The left talk a lot about compassion but they can be absolutely brutal in their defence of it. Because God is on their side any tactics are justified, the ends justify the means, just ask Roy Hattersley and the moderates who had to combat Militant. So a challenger would have to be prepared to put up with a huge level of personal abuse from Corbynistas in a contest where the outcome would be at best very uncertain.
Assuming these first two hurdles could be overcome the contender would then have to take a party at war with itself into the 2020 election. Labour are already 90 seats off a majority and will lose another 20-40 in the boundary commission changes in 2018. Most people don’t care much about politics but they do know that they wont vote for a party at war with itself. What rational person thinking through the sequence of events above would think that he or she had what it took to win in 2020?
The alternative scenario is just to sit it out on the backbenches and wait for Corbyn to crash the left wing plane into the ground in 2020. After that disastrous result he would have to resign and then the moderates could emerge from the safety of their bunker, say to the left: ‘Look, you had your go and it didn’t work.’ and make a reasonable case for bringing the party back into the centre.
Essentially, the choice facing moderates now is how much rope do they give Corbyn? Until after the 2016 elections or until after 2020? Your correspondent reckons that when they sit down and think through the process they will leave it to 2020.