by Rob Marchant
Last Saturday’s Corbyn win was expected. However, most politicians and commentators were waiting to see how convincing it was. The fact that Corbyn is still party leader is still clearly disastrous for Labour’s electoral chances and for its future in general.
On the positive side, while it was a marginally better result for Corbyn, it was not a statistically significant difference. It is essentially the same result as last year, implying that there is not necessarily a growing level of support for him within the party. Bearing in mind some of the worst Corbyn news – such as the Dispatches and Panorama programmes on Labour – did not even surface until most people had already voted, it is highly possible that some Corbyn voters might have voted differently, even now.
In very simple terms, the position is fairly stable. Three-fifths of the membership, plus those others with voting rights, who turned out, are pro-Corbyn. Two-fifths are against.
In short, it is perfectly possible that this level will end up being the high-water mark of his popularity, as the grim reality of four years more of fantasy politics sinks in.
There are some crumbs of comfort that moderates can take from this.
The first positive thing about all this is only 10% need to flip from pro-Corbyn to anti- for him to be lost as leader. Things could have been far, far worse. If Owen Smith had polled 20%, game over. It is not game over, not yet, anyway. And the NEC, the General Secretary, the Deputy Leader and 80% of the PLP are now clearly in the anti-camp. Corbyn’s support depends on that 20% of the selectorate, plus some major unions.
There could yet even be a final pre-2020 attempt to oust Corbyn, although the chances look slim. This is for two reasons: first, that moderates might struggle to find a candidate willing to risk the humiliation of defeat; and second, that a third win for Corbyn might mean cementing the hard left forever.
The strong likelihood, therefore, is that Corbyn will now be there until 2020. But after the inevitable general election monstering by the Tories and the SNP, he would find it very difficult to stay (and if he or a hard-left replacement succeeded, a split would become inevitable).
And if you doubt the level of mass electoral destruction, just imagine Tory attack ads raking over his relationship with Hamas and the IRA, stories surely still not yet in the consciousness of most voters.
Corbyn would have to do TV in a general election campaign too, he couldn’t hide away from mainstream media like he does now. Imagine a head-to-head with Theresa May where she taunted him on leaving NATO, or produced quotes from his militant past.
Bottom line: Corbyn has only had one year and look at the polls. Three more years and Labour will have become a standing joke.
What does all this mean for activists? The immediate imperative is clear: we need to give good reasons to the significant number who’ve been saying “I’m voting for Owen Smith then I’m going” not to tear up their membership cards. This is vital, if we are to keep – and improve on – the 60-40 split of pros to antis.
The second positive thing is that Corbyn really doesn’t have an NEC majority any more. This, with a bit of luck, will largely limit mandatory reselection of MPs. And as long as mandatory deselections don’t happen, the impulse to split will be much reduced.
The PLP will still retain quite a lot of power: they could, after all, threaten to push for the Short money and Leader of the Opposition status in Parliament with a PLP leader who is not Corbyn, as Uncut has previously written.
Even if this threat were not carried out, it could be used as a bargaining chip to get a degree of autonomy in policy. Unions could well shift position as well, as they see the reality of an election approaching debacle (and as their members potentially become unhappy that their subs are being siphoned into Momentum, a political organisation which few of them support).
But there is still a big risk of a split. The biggest is what you might call the nausea effect: that decent MPs simply cannot look themselves in the mirror and say things they do not believe in. Or that they decline to be part of a party where the leader, plus Shadow Defence and Foreign Secretaries, are actively working against party policy on Defence. Or which declines to help protect civilians in Syria. Or where Jewish activists are heckled on the conference floor.
This pervading queasiness clearly risks encouraging MPs to want to split off, and also has already demonstrably made some moderate activists leave. If Labour wants to survive, it is going to have to convince both MPs and activists to retain strong stomachs.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left