The Labour civil war is baffling even for those involved in it. For those of us outside the Labour Party, it can at times be difficult to keep up with all the ins and outs of this bitter faction fight. In order to fill in some of the gaps, we therefore provide a brief update of the events of the last couple of days:
- The leadership challenge has at last been launched… Angela Eagle was unfortunate in that her launch speech on Monday clashed with Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Tory race. However, while not many people may have noticed at the time it is at last official that the much-mulled bid to unseat Corbyn is officially underway. She claims to have the 51 MP nominations required.
- …but there’s a challenger to the leadership challenger. Given that one reason for the delay in launching Eagle’s bid was supposedly that the rebels were taking time to agree on a ‘unity candidate’, it’s extraordinary that Owen Smith is apparently also now running. It’s unclear how or why this has come to pass, but Labour now has a challenger challenger. He, too, will need 51 nominations – but apparently he is cannibalising Eagle’s supporter list. It’s likely that only one of the two will make it through to actually standing against the leader.
- Corbyn is on the ballot paper automatically. Given that he only got into the leadership election last year thanks to the misguided charity of Andy Burnham and various MPs who agreed to ‘give a voice to the left’, there was some concern among Corbynites that their man might not be able to secure enough MPs’ signatures to be in the race this time. However, after an exchange of legal advice and a vote of the Labour NEC, they have concluded that he will be nominated automatically as the sitting leader.
- Many of his supporters might not be allowed to vote… Having won the debate about getting onto the ballot paper, Corbyn left the NEC meeting to celebrate the news. While he was out of the room, the Executive then voted to drastically limit the electorate in the leadership ballot. To get a vote, they will either have to have been members or £3 supporters for more than six months, or pay £25 in the next two days. Given that Momentum and others have bust a gut to sign up over 100,000 new supporters in recent weeks, that’s a blow to his chance of winning. The ruling could yet be challenged by the Corbynites – particularly as the Labour website still advertises that by paying £3 you can “have your say in who Labour’s next leader is”.
- …but Unite has announced a £2 route to work around that rule. Cleverly, Unite has started inviting people to join for £2 and thereby gain a vote as an affiliate member of the Labour Party. Momentum is also taking advice on whether the organisation would be allowed to pay the £25 fee for its members to gain a vote.
- Meanwhile, Corbynite anger is growing further. The attitude of loyalists towards the “plotters” was already pretty inflamed, but now it is a raging furnace. A brick has been put through the window of Eagle’s constituency office and a dedicated Twitter account is now compiling the regular instances of online abuse directed at those who are seen as disloyal. McDonnell and Momentum publicly claim to be mystified at where all this is coming from, but the Shadow Chancellor’s derision for “f*cking useless” rebels at a Momentum rally last night ought to offer a hint as to why Corbyn’s grassroots supporters might think it acceptable.
- What’s next? First we will see a battle royale over the cut-off date for the electorate. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the dispute end up in court, via a legal challenge on behalf of those who paid their £3 on the promise of a vote on the leadership. If the six month rule stands, the rebels might have some chance of defeating Corbyn, but even if they do so it would be at the cost of sparking deselections and turmoil on the ground. If it is struck down, handing Corbyn almost-certain victory, or if he wins through anyway, then various MPs who have talked of splits might well turn words into action, and the Corbynites will be out for vengeance. As I wrote at the end of June, any road leads to a very messy future.