Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader there has been speculation over a possible challenge to his position. It’s no secret that the majority of the PLP (and even majority of those who signed his nomination papers) think he’s a disaster and want rid of him.
Their active consideration of when to carry out the deed is accelerated by three factors.
First, Corbyn’s allies are hoping to change the rules around leadership challenges to increase the chance that the Dear Leader would survive a coup attempt.
Second, the longer they wait the more the nature of the Labour Party itself will be changed in a Corbynite direction. Labour MPs with a wary eye on their own constituency parties can see that Momentum is working hard to gather and organise the influx of new members in order to dominate the Party machine. When the organisation launched we described it as “Corbyn’s Revolutionary Guard, standing next to the levers of power with a big stick to guarantee that they are only ever used in the appropriate way”, and so it has proved. Nor has the influx of new and troubling members ceased – Guido has been covering some of those extremists who are not just attracted to the new-look Labour Party but have been readmitted by its new management.
Third, the relatively sensible members of the PLP reason that the longer they are led by the far left, the more damage the Conservatives will do to the Labour brand – a reasonable assumption, given the Tory message is focused on linking Labour inextricably with Corbynite politics.
For each of these reasons, those opposed to Corbyn feel the need to act as soon as possible. Some have told the Huffington Post that the summer offers “one last shot” at doing so.
How would such a challenge work, and what might happen if one was mounted?
Inevitably, eyes turn at this point to the rule book. The debate is a lengthy one – ably dissected here – but it essentially boils down to a dispute over whether or not, in the case of a challenge, Corbyn would need the support of 20 per cent of Labour MPs to make it onto the ballot paper. The idea that he would, and therefore could be eliminated by MPs from defending his own job, seems like an optimistic reading of the rules on the part of his opponents.
If he was automatically on the ballot paper then there is little doubt he would be returned by the membership which elected him only a few months ago. But if he was to be prevented from standing then it’s hard to see how that’s a better scenario for the Labour Party.
For a start, it wouldn’t automatically deliver the leadership to a neo-Blairite. Corbyn and his allies would surely seek to get sufficient nominations for a Corbynite successor candidate instead – Lisa Nandy’s name is often mentioned (though her media performances leave me baffled as to why anyone should think that wise).
And regardless of the outcome of such a leadership race, the use by MPs of a technicality to exclude the man whom the members want would herald a bloodbath. We haven’t yet seen the deselections feared by Labour MPs and occasionally threatened by Corbyn’s supporters. But in the case of coup, we almost certainly would – and if it was a coup backed up by rulebook jiggery-pokery, the chances rise even higher.
The majority of the Labour Party membership would be furious with the plotters, even if they had managed to get Nandy or some other Corbyn-approved candidate onto the ballot paper. In their minds, all their suspicions about a supposedly “Red Tory” conspiracy against true socialism would have been confirmed, and the names of some of those responsible would be publicly available. If winning the leadership hadn’t proved to be sufficient to change Labour, then they would reason that more systemic change was needed to do the job.
This is why a coup against Corbyn would ultimately be doomed, regardless of its planning or its short-term success. Corbyn isn’t one man who ended up in his job by accident, he’s a product of a huge shift in the Labour Party and its wider movement. The Miliband years could have been used to fight off the return of Trotskyite rhetoric, the rise of conspiracy theories about stolen elections and all the rest of this rubbish. But they weren’t – instead, those trends were allowed to grow, and in some cases they were fed by Labour figures who wanted re-tweets and adulation in a dark time.
As a result, it seems like the lesson of why this ideology is a dead end will have to be learned in painful practice at the ballot box. That can be done, but it is a long process to strip away the fiercely held conviction that defeat must always be due to a combination of “the one per cent”, Murdoch’s media and not being left-wing enough. Some Blairites accept it may take until at least 2025 to start to reverse what Corbyn has achieved in a few short months.