Anti-Corbyn plotters in the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) have vowed to hold annual leadership challenges against the Labour leader in what they call a “war of attrition”, if he wins again in September – proving they are willing to hand the Conservative another election victory to topple their own leader.
Considering it is very difficult for Labour to hold the government to account when its MPs are infighting, yet alone win a general election, it seems the rebels are willing to hand the Conservatives victory if Corbyn does not ignore his democratic mandate and resign. After making steady gains in the polls up until the EU referendum, it’s the subsequent coup that appears to have gifted the Tories a healthy lead.
One former shadow cabinet member anonymously told the Independent:
There will be a process of attrition. Most of the PLP will not serve under Jeremy. His position is untenable. The sooner he realises that, the better.
Critics could argue this comment betrays the circular reasoning of the rebelling MPs. Their argument comes across as tautologous: Corbyn is unfit to lead because he has lost support of the PLP. But, at the same time, he has lost the support of the PLP because he is ‘unfit to lead’.
And in making such a threat, the Labour plotters have hinted they would rather see a Conservative government re-elected than a Labour government under Corbyn. They would rather trample on the party’s electoral chances through annual coup attempts than see Corbyn made Prime Minister.
If Corbyn wins again, he will have been democratically elected twice. But, it appears the views of members and affiliated supporters are of limited importance to those who oppose him in the PLP.
Another anonymous Labour MP said:
If we don’t win [the leadership] this year, we will do it again next year and, if necessary, the year after. At some point before the next general election, he will go. The only question is when.
In their campaign to topple Corbyn, the coup and its candidate Owen Smith are trying to pin the blame on the Labour leader for the divisions in the party. On Friday, Smith said the party is heading for a “disastrous split” under Corbyn. Meanwhile, former acting leader Harriet Harman accused Corbyn of “driving a wedge” between MPs and members.
But, rebelling MPs are the ones who have now vowed to ignore the will of the membership and the party rules year upon year if the leadership election does not go their way. Onlookers may not think such a move chimes with a campaign entitled ‘Saving Labour’.
The rebelling MP’s candidate, Smith, has attempted to distance himself from the coup. Despite expressing his leadership ambitions back in January and resigning to topple Corbyn, the MP for Pontypridd is trying to paint himself as the saviour of the Labour party. He said on Friday:
If we don’t pull ourselves back from the brink, unite and start acting like a team we are at risk of falling apart. I can’t stand by and watch that happen
Smith is acting like the party is in crisis in spite of his actions, rather than because of them. He is trying to brand himself as the saviour of a problem he helped create. As one Twitter user pointed out:
Owen Smith declares on #Marr he will serve under Corbyn if Jeremy wins.
Owen my old comrade! He did win.
— Ron Moore MP (@RonMooreMoreRon) July 17, 2016
The vow from rebelling MPs to hold annual leadership challenges suggests Labour’s civil war could continue well beyond the election in September.
The threats of yearly challenges come after Corbyn refused to rule out fresh union demands for mandatory reselection of sitting MPs. The UK’s biggest trade union, Unite, voted to support mandatory reselection last week.
Corbyn has said that the looming constituency boundary changes mean MPs would face such a challenge anyway. If mandatory reselection goes ahead, every sitting Labour MP would have to win the support of their local party members. Former leadership hopeful Angela Eagle, for example, would find this prospect very worrying indeed. Her constituency Labour party (CLP) passed, albeit unofficially, a vote of no confidence in her last week, by 54-9.
Such a reselection procedure would provide a direct link between the electorate, who all have the opportunity to become party members, and its representatives in parliament. Therefore strengthening democracy and encouraging more people to join the Labour party in order to participate.
At present, the party’s ruling national executive (NEC) seems committed to the opposite: disenfranchising and discouraging new members. The NEC retroactively banned Labour members who joined in the last 6 months from voting in the leadership election, raised the ‘registered supporter’ voting fee from £3 to £25, suspended CLP meetings until after the election and has now barred members who joined after June 2015 from attending the party’s national conference in September.
If Corbyn wins again, it will be in spite of these attempts to subvert the democratic process. And if rebelling MPs do not accept such a result and continue to undermine the leader, Labour members will be much more likely to vote out their MP in a reselection process. Indeed, it may be the only way to ensure a functioning Labour party ahead of the next general election.
Read our other articles on the Labour party.