Back in June, I gave a run-down of the various outcomes of the Labour coup attempt. Worst for the rebels, I wrote, would be for Corbyn to be re-elected with a thumping majority.
Well, that’s exactly what’s happened – in fact, his much-cited mandate from the membership is even bigger than before.
Where does this leave the rebels? They now have three options:
1) Come crawling back. Corbyn and McDonnell have both said “there’s an open door” for repentant rebels. Assuming that door doesn’t lead to the JobCentre, the gulag or a pit full of hungry wild dogs, some will be tempted to take it. It’s a cowardly option, swearing fealty to the leader that everyone knows you think is useless, but it would provide a quieter life. The level of abuse various rebel MPs have been receiving is vast, and paired with the fear of deselection it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some give in and start pretending that they support Corbyn. It would guarantee disaster for the Labour Party, but might spare those who repent from deselection.
2) Fight on inside the Labour Party. This seems to be the route most of the rebels are taking – refusing to change their view on Corbyn, and instead trying to find productive work away from the frontbench. The races to chair the Home Affairs and Brexit select committees are both hotting up for exactly this reason, and various MPs are looking for any opportunity to escape to a regional mayoralty if at all possible. I suspect we’ll see others suddenly discover an interest in writing books and so on, too. The risks of trying to wait out the storm like this are two-fold: first, Labour will continue to steam to electoral disaster under its worst leader in living memory, which could well cost some of these MPs their seats, and second, the Corbynite grassroots might yet take their revenge through deselections.
3) Split or quit. There are several different ways to do it: a clean break, as demonstrated today by the leader of the Labour Group on Portsmouth City Council who has simply left the Labour Party; setting up an alternative party, as apparently mooted by some Labour grandees in private; or leaving to join another party, as Paddy Ashdown has been angling for them to do. Some MPs reportedly even think it might be possible to split administratively – gaining their independence – without having to formally leave their Party, perhaps using the Co-operative Party as a vehicle to do so. It’s possible this will happen, but the fact none have split yet, despite a year of Corbyn and his second leadership election victory, makes me wonder what it would take to push them over the edge.
In that June article, I concluded that “all the likely possibilities for what comes next are very messy indeed”. So it has proved – with 80 per cent of Labour MPs now forced with the question of how to serve, or survive, a Corbyn leadership that could continue for the foreseeable future, the slow torment of the Labour Party looks set to continue.