A Thought Experiment
By now most people agree that it is inevitable there will be a leadership challenge to beleaguered Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. What is less clear is what will happen after that. Most sources seem to agree that Corbyn still enjoys a lot of support amongst the members of the Labour Party who elected him. The MPs in his party feel very differently as was made evident by the vote of no confidence held on the 28th June. It seems only a matter of time until Angela Eagle, Yvette Cooper or Dan Jarvis decide the time is right to challenge their leader.
If and when this does happen they’ll need to secure the backing of 20% of Labour MPs and MEPs to force a leadership election. This would mean getting the backing of 51 of Labour’s elected officials. This would hardly seem a challenge given the way that vote of no confidence went. 172 MPs want Corbyn out. Therefore it is theoretically possible for all three of the supposed contenders to garner the necessary support to mount a challenge. One has to suppose it would be more realistic for one candidate to come forward, so as not to split the already divided Labour party into further factions. Political pundits seem to think Angela Eagle is the most likely candidate, so for the purposes of this thought experiment we’ll continue with that assumption.
So we have a situation where Angela Eagle has garnered enough support from MPs to mount a challenge. That triggers a leadership contest. Given the way that Labour leadership contests are now decided by the entirety of the Labour party, and given how big a mandate Jeremy Corbyn received just one year ago you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be a foregone conclusion that Corbyn would simply be re-elected as leader.
However, things may not go so simply for Mr Corbyn. There is some uncertainty as to whether he would be allowed onto the ballot paper for the leadership contest, because he may also need to secure that 20% support that a challenger would need… and he would not have such an easy time acquiring said support. He only just got onto the ballot paper last year, so unless he is automatically on it because he is the standing leader – an idea that is far from clear cut – he may well not be. Surely at that point the Labour Party membership, where Jeremy is so well supported, would become just as unhappy as the PLP are now. They would be facing a vote for candidates they don’t want, because the PLP have forced Corbyn out not by getting him to resign but simply by refusing to support him. Would that seem fair? Would it seem democratic? Would that matter?
Let’s make another assumption for the sake of this thought experiment. Let’s assume that Corbyn is on the ballot paper, either automatically or because he somehow gets enough support from the Party’s MPs and MEPs. And let us also assume that he wins that leadership contest, owing to that grass roots support he seems to still enjoy. What then? What happens to a Labour Party whose MPs clearly don’t endorse their leader but can’t do anything about him?
I think that what is likely to happen is a splintering. The rules of Parliament allow for MPs to change parties at any time; and while I don’t think that any of the PLP would likely defect to another existing party, I think it highly likely that some echo of a Blairite New Labour could be formed. Presumably under a more imaginative name. The question then becomes who the official opposition party would be. If we were to make yet another assumption (because honestly, it is impossible to know anything at this point so why not?) and suggest that some or most of those 172 MPs who voted against Corbyn in the no-confidence vote would become members of this new New Labour… that would leave Labour under Corbyn with only 40 or so MPs… and this new incarnation of the labour party, comprised at least initially of MPs rather than voters would therefore assume the role of official opposition, thereby rather side-stepping the whole issue of having an opposition leader who is unelectable.
We would end up with a Parliament more fractured and divided than before, which is perhaps a better reflection of how the country is at the moment. Would that be good for the stability of the government and long term ‘health’ of our Nation going forward? Your guess is as good as mine. Would it add pressure for a general election before 2020? You bet your bottom dollar it would.