Corbyn won’t be leader into 2020, but he will decide who is

by Kevin Meagher

If you don’t like heights, then it’s probably not worth setting your heart on becoming a steeplejack. Given Jeremy Corbyn has never sought a frontbench job in his 32 years as a Labour MP until it was “his turn” to stand for the leadership as the left’s standard bearer, how will he now cope with the demands of the job?

After his first week he will have discovered that leading a political party (and not just any party, but the official opposition) is all-consuming. Wooing people you don’t like (and who may not like you in return). Defusing internal rows. Prepping for PMQs. An endless cycle of trudging around the country on visits. Round after round of media interviews. A big part of the job is trying to get noticed (for the right reasons) and stay relevant to what is going on in the news.

Then there’s the small matter of Corbyn’s track record as a serial rebel, plus an array of causes and radical positions he has spent three decades adopting that will require endless defending and explaining. There is a reason why our successful professional politicians are all things to all people.

To his credit, Corbyn is not a personally ambitious man. There is no yellowing envelope in his jacket pocket plotting each stage of his rise to greatness. He does not covet power and thinks, instead, as part of a collective, “a movement” as he puts it.

So here’s a prediction. Jeremy Corbyn will not lead Labour into the 2020 election, but he will decide who does. At some point he will bow to the inevitable. He is not cut out for the pace of modern high-level politics. It requires insane levels of personal commitment and a ready acceptance of the dictates of the mass media, neither of which suits him (as his irascibility about media scrutiny is already showing). We will not get a new tune out of an old fiddle.

Moreover, he will hate it if is his personal performance in the role squanders the real significance of his mandate; which is to reposition the party to the left.  So in order to secure that advance, he may be willing to pass the baton to a successor, especially if that person can unite the disparate Labour clans and avoid a bloody leadership contest. All sides would need to be prepared to give ground on policy and strategy and create a space for a new leader to straddle the divides within the party.

A second act change of leader in this parliament will automatically create fresh momentum and offer the shock of the new. It worked for John Major in 1992 and both Labour’s most successful election winners, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair, took over mid-term, following the untimely demise of their predecessors; respectively, Hugh Gaitskell and John Smith.

The aim should be this: a repeat of 2007, when no-one gathered enough nominations to force a run-off and Gordon Brown emerged as leader from an affirmation ballot. This requires a genuine unity candidate. Someone on whose shoulder Corbyn can rest his support, as can those from other wings of the party. But who? It will, in all likelihood, be a member of the new frontbench. Someone who will show they can work with the grain and is willing to respect the party’s decision to elect Corbyn in the first place.

Can such a deal be struck? It seems a perverse suggestion just a week after the Corbyn insurgency changed the entire terms of reference of Labour politics, but the day will come when it becomes the obvious move. The Labour leader who will take the party into the 2020 election sits on Labour’s frontbench. It just isn’t Jeremy Corbyn.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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11 Responses to “Corbyn won’t be leader into 2020, but he will decide who is”

  1. David Walker says:

    You refer to Corbyn’s belief that Labour is a movement like a parent talking about their 7 year-old’s invisible special friend. A movement is exactly what it was, before career-politicians took over it.

    ‘There is a reason why our successful professional politicians are all things to all people.’ You could have added the unsuccessful ones as well. The reason is that they are all dishonest, shameless and only out for themselves.

    There may well be a yellowing envelope, in Corbyn’s ill-fitting jacket, but it will plot society’s path to greatness rather than his own.

    The media will only ever look to attack him, so he should ignore it and spend the next 4 and a half years packing out large halls in every British town and city. That’s worked out pretty well for him so far.

    Brown’s bloodless coronation was a disaster. It took place because every other Labour MP was afraid of him and with good reason. He was an insane despot, who the electorate rejected in favour of an Old Etonian ex-Bullingdon member.

    There can be no unity candidate in a party that has both Corbyn and Kendall as sitting MPs. If Britain had a proper electoral system, the party would have disbanded long ago.

    Labour-Uncut really should stop making any more predictions, for a while. The website’s contributors have got just about everything wrong, since May.

  2. Anne says:

    Yes agree with this assessment. Up until the last few weeks I had never heard of JC but since he has been elected as leader his life has been scrutinised. He does come across as a hard working MP who has devoted his life to politics- he must be popular in his constituency and has appeared to have helped many people but I agree with the author of this piece that eventually the demands of the job will catch up with him – even for much younger men in similar positions the strain becomes evident – you see stain also in football managers when their team is not performing well – they appear to age 10 years in a short space of time. Certainly his appointment has generated debate. Who will succeed him?

  3. Historyintime says:

    This is a possibility. But a ‘flame (or is that lame) out’ its more likely. That is, JC will make serial political errors and be seen reasonably soon as a bad mistake. In which case, he may need to be challenged. But still by somebody with party-wide credibility. The obvious candidate is Tom Watson, ‘reluctantly’ ringing the bell.

  4. Ryland1 says:

    No Kevin, it is not obvious – it might be for your and your ilk, but for people who voted for JC etc and who believe in his vision ( and of course another 60 000 have joined since his election ) we will fight tooth and nail to avoid a return to some sort of Blaireite consensus. You may not have realised it yet – but it will be many, many years before the right get a sniff of power again in the Labour Party.

  5. John P Ried says:

    Give it a rest,if this article had appeared on Leftfutures it maybe be credible

    Jeremy won’t be ousted in a coup,I’ve got the impression people who voted for him are the foot soldiers who slogged for years to get other Poeple elected as councillors,
    , if the councillors lose their seats,due to Corbyn being unpopular and we have spent a fortune trying to get them elected,
    Then Theres talks of a coup,so there’s not a Tory landslide in 2020′ , who can do it, of course he may choose to resign, as he knows we’d lose big time, that’s up to him, who would those who would want him to stay even if it electoral suicidem,they won’t tolerate Burnham or Cruddas, maybe Yvette, but why should she want it

  6. Richard Arthur says:

    It will depend on the polls. If he is evidently heading for a win, the PLP won’t dare lose him. If he is evidently heading for a loss, they would be foolish to keep him. Perhaps the worst is an Ed Mark 2, in with a hope not realised on Election Day, after which he would quit, leaving a bit of a mess behind.

  7. swatantra says:

    Agree, JC won’t be Leader to take Labour into the GE, and he probably won’t have a say in who is.

  8. ad says:

    Or he might try to give the party activists power over the parliamentary Labour party.

    In which case it might well degenerate into a pressure group over the next ten or twenty years.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Swat you voted for him,who do you think will take over, incidentally as we both backed Bunham in 2010′ how bad was his campaign on a scale 1-10 ,ten being the worse

  10. It’s worth remembering that PASOK didn’t degenerate into being a minor player in Greek politics because its leader was too far to the left. Perhaps you should be hoping that Corbyn hangs in there so that Labour doesn’t follow the same path as its sister party. As Tristram says, Pasokification is the danger.

  11. Matt Wardman says:

    Optimistic I think.

    A homework question.

    If you are getting back with a bare majority in 2020, which extra 100 constituencies is post-Jezza going to win? There won’t be more than about a dozen in Scotland, if that, and the Tories are at a 30 year high in Wales.

    (I’m ignoring that there will be 600 constituences, but noting that it is likely to cost Lab about 15-20 net given demographics and population movements).

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