After Labour’s less than apocalyptic (but still poor) local election showings in England, coupled with Sadiq Khan’s victory in London, the coup of Jeremy Corbyn post EU referendum looks less likely than ever. What is most interesting about this is that while Khan becoming mayor has theoretically helped Corbyn, at least in the short term, the two are clearly rivals more than comrades, and the London mayor could become a threat to the leadership reasonably soon.
I said the other day that Sadiq Khan’s victorious campaign was the very opposite to the way that Jeremy Corbyn campaigns. Some have asked for clarity on that, so here goes. Sadiq’s campaign engaged with the press, even bits of it that were hostile or indifferent to his bid to be mayor. When the Evening Standard backed Zac, the Corbynista reaction would have been to snipe at the paper, to call it part of the right-media conspiracy against Labour. Sadiq did nothing of the kind, continuing to interact with the publication up until polling day. Khan also built his campaign on the need to reach swing and Tory voters, the idea clearly being that convincing them was crucial to victory. This is the opposite to the Corbyn view that Labour core votes plus the votes of the those who don’t usually vote will be the path to government, with Tory voters conveniently ignored.
The two approaches clashed at last night’s PLP meeting. Corbyn did his usual “can we hurry up and get this over with” shtick, while Sadiq gave a rousing speech that got a two minute standing ovation. It’s hard not to take the diametrically opposed campaigning methods, their opposite approach to how to speak to the parliamentary party, Khan’s massive victory and his post-election lightly veiled attacks on Corbyn’s methods (the “taking sides” jibe in particular) as demonstrating that Corbyn and Khan will soon become direct rivals within Labour – if that cannot already be said to clearly be the case.
What will increase the tension in this dynamic is that while the Corbynistas are very keen to demonstrate Khan’s victory as one for Jeremy as well, Sadiq and his team are trying as much as possible to distance themselves from such an idea, painting Sadiq’s victory as a one for the man himself pretty much solely (which isn’t far from the truth. Zac’s terrible campaign was much more of a factor in the contest than Corbyn either way).
In other words, a huge scrap within Labour to claim the London mayoral contest as being for one Labour faction or another is just kicking off, with the disaffected members of the PLP who had been itching for a coup attempt finding a new horse to back in Sadiq. How this plays out over the next year will determine a lot about the future of the Labour Party.