Leadership challenge? You can’t be serious

by Rob Marchant

It is always a little unwise to make predictions, as us bloggers occasionally find some time later, to our shame and embarrassment.

But perhaps we can venture one now. If there is a silly season within conference season, it is surely within Lib Dem conference. And this year, a few MPs and journalists have used its abject pointlessness as an excuse to take a break from serious politics.

And, indeed, from reality altogether: they have convinced themselves that a Labour leadership challenge is in the air, as these pieces from the Telegraph and the Mail show.

Only it’s not. Or, at least, it’s incredibly unlikely.

Oh, that’s not to say that some aren’t thinking about it, some even vaguely seriously. It’s always good to check where one’s political stock is, and a dip in the polls is an attractive time to do so.

But there are a lot of good reasons why it is merely fanciful thinking – more a crying into one’s beer in a Manchester hotel bar than a serious, credible campaign briefing.

First, history. Unlike the Tories, Labour is the anti-nasty party; one which gives a sometimes annoying level of benefit-of-the-doubt. It does not generally dump leaders before they have had a chance to lose an election (in fact, it sometimes doesn’t even dump them afterwards, as the 1987 election taught us, even if it really should).

Second, if a leadership challenge has not happened by a half-year before the election, it is a particularly dumb time to try and have one. No-one has time to put together a hole-free policy program in that time, which reflects their own personal stamp.

Then you would have to have a snap leadership election which would likely take at least two months to organise (the last snap election did, after John Smith’s death), with Christmas likely in the middle, which means it probably wouldn’t happen until January, leaving around three months until the start of the short campaign.

Even the customarily-ruthless Tories would think twice about this one: Thatcher and Duncan Smith were both done in by the “men in grey suits” a full two years before the election. Oh, and we might also reflect that the only party in recent history which memorably changed its leader at the last minute was the Australian Labor Party. That didn’t end well.

Third, the process requires some support to be built. Party politics, it is always worth remarking, is different from the politics of Westminster. To understand it requires a little understanding of party process, history and a little context which breathless news journalists, eager for a story, might occasionally lack. It’s not just about the gossip in the Tea Room.

Under the current process (the new one is clearly not ready yet) one needs sufficient support from members and unions as well as the PLP. Only a handful of MPs are in that category in the first place.

Fourth, even if the first three points don’t convince you, look at the specific circumstances. The previous hopefuls who lost in 2010, bar one, lost by a lot. And that one is not even an MP, apart from probably not being remotely interested in repaying a brotherly “favour”. The only other possibles who have a little support are too young, too old, standing down or not interested. Johnson and Darling, for example, are not going to go now, if they didn’t before.

Fifth, paradoxically, the polls do not exactly scream “now’s the time” either; they are too close. While Miliband’s personal ratings continue dire and may easily do for him by next May, Labour has still been consistently ahead in the voting intention polls until the last week (and those two counterexamples may yet turn out to be rogue polls). One suspects that, even with a more popular leader, a last-minute change might be as likely to make the overall numbers blip down, and let Cameron in, as up. It’s too delicate.

Sixth and finally, who then is left who might decide to put up, under those circumstances? Probably only someone who is terribly self-deluded, or someone with nothing to lose. And suppose they did: if Labour then lost and polled worse than Labour is doing now, that unfortunate MP would forever bear the stigma of “the chancer that lost it for us”. Even those two remaining, outlier categories would probably blanch at that.

No, to misquote John Major, it is time to shut up, not put up.

Whatever good it might have done a couple of years ago, a challenge now will not help Labour win. You hopefuls should have gone a long time ago, if you were going to.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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14 Responses to “Leadership challenge? You can’t be serious”

  1. swatantra says:

    You cannot be serious!
    But, if Labour lose Heywood and Middleton, we may well have to take drastic action.

  2. 07052015 says:

    Mail and Torygraph desperately talking this up all with unamed sources -why well the Tories are about to be pulverised in Clacton and they fear a Labour win in Heywood.A tory defeat in Rochester will send their mps into a tailspin and if a third jumps ship then its meltdown time.

  3. Fred says:

    I find this so amusing. The best electoral asset the Tories and UKIP have are the Eds. They are desperate to keep the no hoper in place.

  4. John reid says:

    This is click bait, but I will get drawn in

    As much as I admire Neil Kinnock he fully endorsed the 1983 manifesto Of bringing back the closed shop, unilateralism, leaving the EU flying pickets ,and Buying back council homes, then He stood on the 1992 mnaifesto totally different to this,
    Some politicians can have the power that hte public forgot what they stood for 15 years earlier as Churchill did in 1951,

    It was said had John smith ousted Kinnock in late 91 and Shadow trade minsiter gordon brown just changed hte upper rate tax policy that labour could have own in 1992, after 13 years of the tories the recession, state of the NHS and the poll tax,

    before the public would have twigged had Smith won, he coudn’t make a decision,

    But If Ed went who could replace him who could appeal to the roots of the organisation of the party ,could appeal to those put off by the westminster buble, like the Northern wokring class ,who admire Blue lABOUR, YET HAVE THE APPEAL OF MIDDLE ENGLAND, but have tried to accept the dificulties of the road ahead, and could actually get the party to accept that we need to change drasitcally,

    there’s no one, it snot like we’re 20 points behind as we were in late 1982, and even then there were many who were resigned to the fact we were going to lose in 1983, but how big is the defeat next year going to be,mI feel anyone whos’ majoirty in 2000 where the Tories are second should be panicking, but as .Ed had surrounded himself by those who think he’s going to win, as he’s not seen the infighting we had in the early 50’s or early 80’s then it looks like he’s more sucsessfull than previous leaders were,

    after the election, Labour need John cruddas, and Jon Mann, andy burnham may have an appeal bigger than the rest of the front bench and Chuka,falls into the trap of not haivng had a proper job, doesn’t understand the working class and is too young to recall the battle sof the 80’s

  5. Tafia says:

    Little pointer for the future that many people don’t realise – The Lib Dems have already stated in this conference and again in interview in the Sunday Times – they will not enter into coalition with Labour if Miliband is leader – he will have to stand down. Now before you think that’s unrealistic, in the negotiations after the 2010 GE they made the same demand regarding Gordon Brown. Balls and team wouldn’t yield to that thinking they wouldn’t dare go into Coalition with Cameron. But they did.

    He is a liability – and the reason he is a liability is because the core (including northern CLPs) think he is an onanist*, the swing voters thing he is a dweeb, and the Lib Dems do not like him.

    (* Douglas Alexander has ordered regional offices to stop reporting that people complain about Miliband – http://tinyurl.com/o9bxtkt )

  6. Tafia says:

    If Labour are to win the 2015 GE then they need to increase the size of their majority in Heywood – not only percentage wise but actual size of vote. If they don’t then they have no chance of winning in 2015.

  7. paul barker says:

    I think you are being a liitle disingenuous here, I dont doubt this was a real Plot, just incompetent, unrealistic & desperate. I doubt the MPs involved were really spooked by a handful of Post-Conference Polls showing the Tories ahead, they alrady knew that Labours Poll Leads are just Protest Votes & hot air, they were waiting for an excuse.
    Any attempt at a Coup is bonkers, as you say & its a sign how desperate some MPs are that they would give it any time at all.
    In the end the Plotters are missing the point, Milliband is unpopular because he expresses Labour values so well.

  8. steve says:

    In truth, there is no one to replace Miliband.

    Progress can only manage a roster of nonentities. It is too early for promising new arrivals like Lisa Nandy. And Andy Burnham, the person most rational people would like to see as leader, won’t get any backing from the Progress-heavy PLP.

  9. Ex labour says:

    Miliband is undoubtedly a liability, but those who would look to become leader in any challenge are equally a liability. Balls….er no…..Mrs Balls……er no…Harperson…..hell no…..Harrison Ummuna……calling your constituents “trash” ….not really the best thing to do….Johnson…..nice but dim as his previous ministerial posts have shown.

    As you mentioned Australia. Perhaps the change in leadership came because the labour PM followed an Eco-looney policy of taxing businesses involved in fossil fuels and mineral extraction and also taxing the fuels used by the public. Needless to say the economy slowly died, the jobs boom ended and the Australian people were mightily pissed off with Labour. Hence the desperate last minute change, but they would have been out anyway.

    Do these stupid policies ring bells with you based on the anti business drivel coming from Moribund ?

  10. GK says:

    All three major party leaders are under pressure, but it’s too late for any changes.

    My non-Labour view of Ed M is he is a decent man who would make a decent cabinet member in a technocratic role, such as his previous DECC role. But he is no leader.

  11. Landless Peasant says:

    Dennis Skinner would make a great Labour leader and Prime Minister. Get rid of any Blue Labour influence, kick out all the Glasmanites and get back to being the REAL Labour Party that we can vote for.

  12. john reid says:

    landless peasants, ,who is real Labour have you been a member for 60 years and agreed with all the other manifesto’s

  13. Henrik says:

    It would be really interesting to see Labour lurch violently to the Left – that would certainly, in, what, seven months’ time? – let everyone know just what appetite the great British public has for that sort of thing. My guess is that the party’d be lucky to manage even third place.

    I know it’s a huge disappointment for those of a more extreme inclination, but the British electorate is pretty small-c conservative and isn’t too struck with far-Left statist nonsense. Except for the public sector and the unemployed, who are Labour’s last remaining constituency.

  14. John reid says:

    Henrik’ and the odd thing is Ukip would come second!

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