Corbyn’s Momentum


Jeremy Corbyn at the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. Photograph by Garry Knight.

From London Review of Books:

For a week or so it was open season on the antiwar coalition. One effect was to scare the Greens and cause the party’s former leader Caroline Lucas to resign from the STW committee. Was this really her own decision or was it the idea of the inept Natalie Bennett, fearful that Green supporters were being carried away by the pied piper from Islington? Corbyn himself was unmoved: he told the audience at a STW fundraising dinner that he was proud of the work the organisation had done from the time of the Afghan war onwards, and that he was proud to serve as its chair.

Later in the week of the Syria vote, the Oldham by-election, which had, again, been talked up as a possible disaster for Corbyn (George Eaton in the New Statesman claimed to have been told by ‘an insider’ that ‘defeat was far from unthinkable’) was instead a resounding victory. All this left Corbyn’s enemies on the defensive. A reshuffle early in the New Year removed Eagle and a few others, but Benn was left in place, a reflection of the political difficulties confronting Corbyn. Any attempts to change the political balance of the shadow cabinet have been greeted with threats of mass resignations. How long can Labour MPs carry on this war on their own leader? Corbyn will not be bullied or demoralised into standing down. The snipers will use any ammunition to achieve their goal. Bad local election results in May? Blame Corbyn. Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate in the London mayoral elections, stresses how business-friendly he is – probably more than the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith, who, being wealthy himself, doesn’t have to suck up to the CBI. If Khan wins he’ll be touted as another new challenger for the leadership. If he loses it will, of course, be Corbyn’s fault. As for the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the opinion polls suggest a huge SNP triumph. Corbyn’s fault? Of course. The zombies running Scottish Labour presided over the 2015 meltdown, the worst defeat since Labour was founded. But when they lose this time, it will be Corbyn who is to blame. I doubt very much if this particular claim will stick: too crude and too late.

Even though there is no constitutional mechanism to get rid of a Labour leader through a vote of no confidence by the PLP, there is little doubt that were such a vote to take place, Corbyn would call a new leadership contest. Would he need to repeat the business of getting enough PLP sponsors or could he, as the incumbent, run again automatically? This is a grey area and would probably require a NEC vote that he would win. The rule change would have to be ratified by the Labour Party Conference. His high ratings among party members suggest that Corbyn would win again. What then? A separate grouping of Blairites à la SDP? The latter boasted a few well-known and intelligent social democrats – Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen, Peter Jenkins and Polly Toynbee – but they were still destroyed by the electoral system and had to stave off obscurity by a political transplant, merging with the Liberals, an experiment that ended in disaster in 2015. Were they to try the same, the Blairites would fare much worse, even if one of their number vacated a safe seat to make room for David Miliband.

“Corbyn’s Progress”, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books