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Brexit: What Can the Opposition Do?

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shadowcabinet

Jeremy Corbyn chairs a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet (a meme that did the rounds yesterday)

Seeing as how it’s Labour, the obvious choice is to hit the self-destruct button. A vote of no-confidence in the Corbyn leadership will be held today, with an estimated 150 MPs expected to vote against the leader (out of 229 Labour MPs in the House of Commons). Given Jeremy Corbyn is exhibiting personality traits more familiar with a certain US Senator from Vermont, he’s not expected to resign. This creates a problem (on several levels), not helped in that the Labour Party isn’t even in agreement on its own rules:

And there will also be an attempt to stop Corbyn standing again, with a legal battle pending as two pieces of advice from lawyers have drawn opposite conclusions about whether the standing leader needs to secure MP nominations in the face of a challenge.

Whoever ends up on the leadership ballot, current rules dictate that it goes to a vote of the membership. If Corbyn is on the ballot, he should win. He won 60% of the vote in September, and since assuming the leadership of the party, membership has increased significantly.

The current highly fractious nature of the party (not to be confused with the business-as-usual fractious state of the Labour Party) offers us a delicious dilemma. To be effective, in government or opposition, the leader of the party needs his or her MPs largely on side. When elected leader, most of the high profile MPs of the right and center of the party ruled out participating in his shadow cabinet, and over the past 48 hours he’s lost the majority of what remained. It’s clear that Corbyn does not have the support of Parliamentary Labour Party, and that’s a problem. While the initial group who signalled their lack of support by rejecting the opportunity to serve in the first shadow cabinet did so on ideological grounds, the current tsunami of defections appear to be largely based on the assessment that Corbyn lacks the competence as a leader for what is expected to be a snap general election.

But, the dilemma. How can Labour square the current system for electing the party leader with the very real need to have a strong relationship with the majority of the PLP? If Labour is stuck with Corbyn, there’s really only two options, neither pretty. First, the system can be scrapped (which will not happen so long as Corbyn is leader). While it should not return to the “electoral college” system that elected Ed Miliband, where membership, MPs/MEPs, and trade unions had equal weighting), the PLP should have some sort of input. On the other hand, Momentum (the campaign group set up around Corbyn supporters; they function as a party within a party more or less) could attempt to “de-select” sitting MPs when it comes time for Constituency Labour Parties to select their candidates for the general election. That may or not be effective.

Either choice is sub-optimal, and is guaranteed to piss a lot of people off.

Regardless of what happens, should Corbyn go (either on his own or forced out) the party stands to lose a not-insignificant number of paid up members. Corbyn has a similar hold on his supporters as Bernie Sanders does / did. He is viewed as transcending politics into a near messianic figure. I’ve witnessed this in FTF discussion as well as among the several pro-Corbyn groups I belong to in the social media universe. Ideological purity reigns, and no criticism of the messiah is warranted. Anybody who comes out against Corbyn is either a traitor to the cause, or worse, labelled a Blairite. More energy in these groups is dedicated to criticising the moderate and “Blairite” wing of the party than the real enemy, and Tony Blair (who, recall, did what no other Labour leader had ever done by winning three successive elections, and was one of only four Labour leaders to win an election) receives significantly more attention in these groups than, say, Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, or Nigel Farage. What is hilarious to watch is how each resignation from the shadow cabinet is being explained as either Tony Blair’s direct involvement, or all of those who resigned were Blairites at heart. Of course, this is rubbish; any MP with true Blairite tendencies ruled out serving in the shadow cabinet in September, and to cite two examples, it would be difficult to characterise either Hilary Benn or Angela Eagle as Blairites.

I identify as on the left wing of the party, but I guess in the parlance of the Labour Party, it would be among the so-called “soft left”. I voted for Corbyn, and posted about my reasoning here. That said, I do think that actually winning an election is a pretty good thing, and more critical than ideological purity (which premised that post in September). I still hold to my basic analysis in the September post, but following ineffective leadership of the Labour In campaign (which is stating it charitably) combined with his inability to mobilise much support amongst the PLP, I am becoming increasing less convinced that he is the leader to mobilise this hypothesised expanded electorate that I initially believed.

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