As the Labour leadership contest inches closer, MPs are getting very nervous. But all might not be as bleak as they fear

by Atul Hatwal

Q. When is a coup not a coup?

A. When it is organised by the Labour party.

Well over a week since Hilary Benn’s departure from the shadow cabinet sparked wholesale resignations, there has been no challenge to Corbyn.

Instead, there is stalemate between PLP and leadership, with a front bench that is effectively on strike but has been too scared to put its concerns about the leader before members in a leadership contest.

On Monday night, following the PLP meeting, it seems there was finally some movement.

Tom Watson’s commitment that meetings on Tuesday would be a “last throw of the dice” at coaxing Jeremy Corbyn out of office was widely taken as the final step before a challenge (it also assuaged some of the simmering discontent among MPs at his role in the drawn out nature of events.)

The choice for challenger would appear to be between Angela Eagle and Owen Smith, although Yvette Cooper is rumoured to be still interested.

Given the Tory party is potentially about to have an all-woman run-off between May and Leadsom, it’s hard to see how Labour could run an all-male equivalent with Smith.

With a contest imminent, a new wave of jitters was rippling through the MPs that Uncut spoke to on Monday night; the nightmare scenario of a Corbyn victory a constant topic of conversation.

These fears have been driven in part by last week’s YouGov poll of Labour members which unnerved many of the PLP.

While there was a big swing among respondents since the last poll on whether Corbyn should remain leader – from 60% in May down to 41% last week – it also found he would beat Angela Eagle by 50% to 40% in a head to head race.

Worse still, Eagle’s was the best performance of a challenger – better than Tom Watson or Dan Jarvis.

Corbynistas have taken heart from these findings and have been bullish on social media on the prospects for their man in a contest.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, Uncut has argued that his fate would be determined by Labour’s internal swing vote, the soft left.

The evidence of the last week is that in parliament, at least, the soft left have emphatically turned on Corbyn with notable figures such as the Eagle sisters, Smith, Jess Phillips and Neil Kinnock unequivocal in their criticism.

However, this is less an ideological split than a technocratic one – working at close quarters with Corbyn in parliament has revealed his utter incompetence and inability to perform even the most basic tasks as leader of the opposition.

Whether Labour’s soft left members and supporters, who do not spend every day despairing over the latest Corbyn flub, have had the time to change their opinion is another matter.

These are people who dislike the Conservatives, are disillusioned with what Labour has offered in the recent past and remain desperate for an alternative.

Last year, Jeremy Corbyn was it. Voting for Corbyn was an expression of their identity – a means of protesting against an unhappy status quo.

Since then, the EU campaign has undoubtedly weakened Jeremy Corbyn’s standing, particularly among London activists.

The growing evidence of a concerted movement of centrists, who had left the party, returning to take part in the leadership election and punish Corbyn also gives grounds for some hope.

But the sheer numbers required to switch, worry MPs.

Based on the numbers who voted in last year’s leadership election, 42,000 Corbyn backers would have to change their preferences.

To put that into context, the 176 MPs who voted against Corbyn in the no confidence motion would need to convert almost 240 Corbyn voters each, while holding on to all non-Corbyn votes.

For many, that is equivalent to half or more of their local constituency party’s membership.

But while MPs look ahead to a contest with trepidation, they may have reason to be more confident than their current querulous state.

It’s true that beating Jeremy Corbyn in the vote will be difficult but progress for the centrist cause doesn’t necessarily require Corbyn’s defeat.

Last year, Jeremy Corbyn beat his nearest rival by 40 points. It spawned a narrative about Corbyn’s “overwhelming mandate.”

It’s a phrase you will have read several times in the past nine months.

Yes, Jeremy Corbyn won handsomely. Yes he won on the first round. But 40% of Labour’s selectorate still chose someone else on the first ballot.

If Angela Eagle or whoever the challenger is, registered support in the low 40s, as is quite possible given the YouGov poll, the narrative would shift.

Corbyn’s margin of victory would have fallen from 40 points to single digits. Almost universally opposed by MPs and supported by a thin plurality of members and supporters (perhaps not even by full members), suddenly, Jeremy Corbyn’s grip on the leadership would begin to look a lot more precarious.

“Overwhelming mandate,” would no longer be a credible phrase.

If the challenger came close, with support in the mid to high forties, Corbyn would be mortally wounded.

Rarely does an incumbent face a challenge, barely scrape through and then survive long after.

The electoral reality in the impending race is that the challenger just needs to perform creditably.

When viewed through the prism of winning or losing, it’s understandable why Corbynites are optimistic and most of the PLP are privately panicked.

But this isn’t a one shot game.

Even if Corbyn does nick the result, the day after the election he would be a diminished leader, perhaps significantly so.

One whose weakness had been exposed and whose opponents had been emboldened.

One who would struggle to impose his will on the party, certainly if he tried to implement the sorts of huge structural changes, such as mandatory reselection, that his supporters have threatened.

A party that was finely balanced between pro and anti Corbyn camps, with a new influx of centrist members and supporters eager to take on Corbyn would be quite a different prospect to the shell-shocked institution that he took over in September last year.

In this context, the paramount priority for whoever challenges Corbyn is simple: if victory is out of reach, hold the defeat to single digits.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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13 Responses to “As the Labour leadership contest inches closer, MPs are getting very nervous. But all might not be as bleak as they fear”

  1. Mark Colburn says:

    Any win for Corbyn would be the end. How many more years would we have to wait before the next push? I can’t see why this Leninist would give way while he had a mandate of any scale. He’s already demonstrated that he doesn’t play by the normal rules of conduct for a person in his position.

    The party is heading for a split either now or just before the next election.

  2. Well it seems that Atul is already planning for the next plot after this one fails, but I have to say I did find some admiration for Atul last week.

    Atul would you care to repeat your view that a ballot without Corbyn on it would carry no weight and that the attempt to keep him off is wrong and cowardly?

  3. Mike Stallard says:

    Needs of UK:
    1. To deal with a Brexit which continues our prosperity and which gets us out of a Europe which is going to be increasingly dominated by the Eurozone.
    2. The Welfare State is under threat. First of all we cannot afford it: £1.6 trillion in debt already. Secondly we simply cannot allow everyone to join it from all over the world. It just does not add up. This is usually referred to as “immigration”.
    3. We need to wake up our earning possibilities in the world.
    4. We desperately need a reform of the Civil services and the taxation system. They are swollen and complex and therefore very inefficient. I was looking at the rules for getting a Residency yesterday and, for the life of me, I cannot understand them.

    Would some kind soul please tell me what the official position of the Labour Party is on any of these issues? And if there is no answer, please tell me what all this matters anyway?

  4. John P Reid says:

    The council elections of 2018 maybe the next chance but I fear it’ll be too late
    In all Fairness toCorbyn,nearly any labour leader, would have, lost the working class to ukip up North( outside Liverpool and Manchester)
    If jC goes now,maybe a concede and move on strategy regarding the referendum and accepting that the Islington buble(of which Blairites are a part) ,is toxic to the blue collar working class,

    Maybe listening to Emly Thornberry and saying labour stands for the complete opposite of what she says,could save us,

  5. TC says:

    Having agreed with your article last week, I’m disappointed to see that you seem to be planning for the next attempt to oust Corbyn following the failure, which you as good as accept, of this one. I for one hope that we have an election, but any election must be accompanied by a promise from all sides to abide by the result and to show the members who make the decision some respect, which has been sorely lacking in recent times.

    We need to work together to defeat the Tories (remember them?). But if the sniping, carping, hostile briefing and plotting doesn’t cease when Corbyn wins, then it will be time to bid farewell to those responsible.

    I can’t believe that the plotters don’t realise how silly and inept this whole affair is making them look; Angela Eagle constantly saying she will move against Corbyn (really…I will…this time…honest…any day now…I promise) is making her into a laughing stock. Moreover, it’s damaging the party. There have certainly been some choice words at my local party for the #ChickenCoup organisers, even from those who don’t waste any love on Corbyn. the #ChickenCoup organisers, even from those who don’t waste any love on Corbyn.

  6. The Verdict says:

    The members of the Labour Party vote for their leader. That means each of the 172 mps not 176 as you quote get a single vote out of the four hundred thousand members. That’s how democracy works (remember that ?)

    The reason no-one out of the 172 has put a leadership challenge in by now is clear. They would lose and they know they would.
    In fact, put ALL 172 of these mps on the ballot paper and add their totals at the end and they would still lose against Jeremy Corbyn.

    This plotting, scheming, back-stabbing and media leaking has tried to undermine the leadership from day one. And now having failed to disregard democracy with the petting of the media, they blame Jeremy Corbyn for the damage that THEY have caused.

    Deselection is the only way forward. They will never realise that Red Tories will lose, not only on the Labour member’s ballot but in a general election where they lost in May of last year.

    People want more people like Jeremy Corbyn in politics and less careerist opportunists who have their self interests at heart
    They are fed up of austerity for some and a pig trough of financial rewards for the already rich.

    The only people who are incompetent in this are those fools that have turned their back on the Labour members, democracy and fairness. Rather like a wildcat strike of the 1970s without balloting the people that put them in their jobs.

  7. Tony says:

    “and Neil Kinnock unequivocal in their criticism.”

    It is interesting to note Kinnock’s sheer hypocrisy on this. He blew the debate on the Westland Crisis which enabled Thatcher to survive as prime minister.

    After the disastrous general election result of 1987, he denied that the result had anything at all to do with him and blamed Labour’s policies. Most notable of these was the non-nuclear defence policy which he never actually supported throughout his leadership of the party.

    Despite being such an obvious disaster, Kinnock was allowed to be leader for 8 ½ years. And yet, he has the nerve to urge Corbyn to stand down after less than a year!

    Oh, and by the way, Kinnock was ‘unequivocal’ in his opposition to Corbyn even before Corbyn won the leadership.

  8. Mark Livingston says:

    It’s not just Corbyn’s grassroots base that looks very strong. Rejecting the no-confidence vote, over 240 Labour councillors have signed a letter maintaining their support for Corbyn. In a further indication of his robust local support, a Newsnight survey of 50 Constituency Labour Party (CLP) chairs found that 90% of them still back Corbyn. The leaders of the 12 strongest unions in the United Kingdom also wrote a letter of support following the coup.

    Since the very beginning, Corbyn has been calling for a leadership challenge. Now Eagle steps up as if she’s raising the stakes with her ‘mighty’ call to arms. The coup crew really didn’t think this through.

  9. Peter Kenny says:

    Atul misses the dynamic nature of politics. If Corbyn wins it will be a triumph against powerful opponents and they will have failed.

    The wind will be in his sails and out of theirs.

  10. JoeBloggs says:

    It is such a tragedy that people in the Labour Party regard Corbyn as the enemy. The Tories are laughing in our faces, they can do whatever they want.

    Nobody wants neoliberalism with the hypocritical face of political correctness, but that is all the Blairites can offer. It is not going to get Labour elected ever. And no candidate pushing that agenda will ever become Labour leader again without changing the rules. Give it up, read the writing on the wall, and either join the Lib Dems (or in some cases the actual Tories) if that is your natural home or rediscover what Labour is actually for and start standing up for a democratic socialist agenda..

  11. LaughingTory says:

    Labour is toast and it’s all thanks to JC. He just needs to make the definitely-not-hypocritical-honest Diane deputy leader now, replacing disloyal arch Blairite Watson, to finish the job – keep up the good work comrade!!

  12. Saul Sorrell-Till says:

    Dear Corbyn supporters – please stop telling us what “we” want. At most you can speak for the Labour members who voted for Corbyn, which is to say half a million. At most. 1% of the populace, and considerably less than that if we’re being realistic. There’s a whole country out there, newly sundered by an EU referendum, and at least 48% of UK citizens are crying out for a credible leader who can appeal to the various societal strata that make up the Remain voters. Corbyn is not that man(it can legitimately be argued that his utterly pathetic, crypto-Leave performance during the run-up cost Remain the necessary votes, and there are a lot of people who won’t forget that) and if you were honest with yourselves you’d admit it.

  13. Peter Kenny says:

    One senior MP told The Telegraph: “It’s finished. He will win easily in a second contest if he is on the ballot, it’s everything we wanted to avoid.”

    Looks like it’s all over bar the shouting, folks – “nothing to see here, move along now”

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