Labour’s leadership plotting is going to end in tears

by Trevor Fisher

Last autumn the Labour leadership issues seemed possible to discuss objectively, with a possible clean up of a deeply confused rule book. Perhaps even a sensible mid-term election could be devised while the Fixed Term Parliament Act was in force, a mid term election being discussed in passing during the summer leadership debates. This is no longer possible and even before a rumoured leadership plot is launched, the situation is becoming more confused and dangerously fraught.

The context of what Kevin Meagher rightly described as a ‘putsch‘ is internal disputes in the Whitehall bubble, mirroring tensions over Labour’s direction. There has been little to justify a leadership challenge despite the EU referendum dispute, and as Kevin Meagher pointed out, “The risk is that the current putsch plays straight into the hands of the Corbynites and inflicts lasting, long term damage on the party”. This is clearly true and while I suspect a general election in the autumn is unlikely for Theresa May, if one was called leadership dispute would seriously damage Labour.

However the immediate issues are two-fold, and centre on the nature of the putsch.

The first issue is whether they plotters can keep Corbyn off the ballot paper. If the rules are used to prevent enough supporters to nominate Corbyn, I cannot see how a legal challenge is unavoidable. He is the elected Labour leader. Whether he can be excluded is open to legal challenge but if successfully excluded, this has the effect of making the leadership a PLP matter. The membership is merely rubber stamping the PLP decision.

This would put Labour back in the 1970s and negate the move to membership democracy common to all political parties in the current era. The Tories have a leadership ballot and are now staging a members’ ballot. Old and right wing, but with a real choice. Would Labour gain from being less democratic?

The second problem is what happens if the challenge fails and Corbyn goes onto the ballot paper – the plotters then have to get enough votes to beat him. If they do not, then they are in a worse position than they were when they started. What is their plan B? At the least damaging they have taken themselves out of the shadow cabinet, leaving Labour with the second string.

There is more to the weakness of the shadow cabinet than just the fact it is the second choice, but it’s going to be an issue for the media. Corbyn might argue he has his supporters in place. But as someone neither New Labour nor a Corbynite, a ministry of all the talents is what I want.

And if the plotters lose to Corbyn, what happens then? There have been 129,000 new members in the last fornight, and maybe the long awaited revolt of the moderates is happening. Or perhaps not. A divided leadership, PLP and Grassroots is being mooted, by Frank Field in Guardian letters and Roger Godsiff in the Birmingham Post, but the chances of relegating Corbyn to local party leadership are problematic.

The divisions in the party would be laid bare. Unless there is an eleventh hour settlement, then the old rule that Divided Houses Do Not Stand looks likely to be the text of the moment.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007

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4 Responses to “Labour’s leadership plotting is going to end in tears”

  1. NickT says:

    Theresa May is a far more formidable politician than anyone gives her credit for being – and she’s going to make Jeremy Corbyn look like even more of a Stalinist idiot than he already does. She’s got a range of policies aimed at workers, while Corbyn has nothing but whining, photo-ops with terrorists and fantasies about returning power to the people without winning a General Election. If Labour wants to get anywhere, it needs to remove Corbyn and his idiotic Momentum clique and find an actual leader, someone who has workable ideas and can express them clearly and effectively. Labour has wasted too much time on McCluskey’s Socialist Worker Clown Show already – it cannot afford to give May three years to entrench the Tories in power without any effective response while Little Jeremy pulls the Labour party down around his ears.

  2. John P Reid says:

    The real threat to the Tories will be Ukip, if Jeremy wins, their plan for Red Kip, up north, plus keeping their Tory right vote down south
    Lee it’s possible to appeal to blue collar working class up boer the, and socially conservative people do south, outside the Metro bubble,

    Labour just needs a Blue labour leader

  3. John, who do you see as a possible ‘Blue’ Labour leader? They are all far too middle class to really be able to appeal to that demographic. Corbyn, despite his views on immigration, seems to be able to generate more enthusiasm from the working class than any of the New Labour clones. I guess like me you have looked at or even contacted Alan Johnson, but he isn’t going to run for anything.

  4. Patrick Nelson says:

    There is much to be said for the ideas of Blue Labour but you are quite right Danny Speight – Blue Labour has a people problem – it hasn’t got enough of the right ones.

    That said it is not impossible for the Labour Party to benefit from the insights of Blue Labour and use them to heal its relationship with those who do not fit into the metropolitan worldview – we just need Jeremy Corbyn to get stuck in a lift with Maurice Glasman for a few hours.

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