Yesterday, I predicted mayhem for Labour, with the party looking to do worse than many pundits expect, ending up on between 100-120 seats overall. As if this prediction wasn’t bad enough, it might turn out in the end to be too rosy. This is due to the fact that one of Corbyn’s first thoughts after he heard there was to be a general election in a few weeks time was, “I’m going to have to really hurry up on those deselections!”
Today there is going to be an emergency meeting of the NEC to decide what to do about the snap general election that is less than eight weeks away. There is a lot to discuss. Labour has no money. It doesn’t have candidates selected in a lot of seats (admittedly, mostly in seats that are unwinnable, but they still face the possible humiliation of not running candidates in every seat if this isn’t rectified, fast). It doesn’t have a manifesto. It is 20+ points behind in the polls.
Yet Corbyn seemingly wanted, until someone convinced him how terrible an idea it was, not to try and alleviate these problems but to add a great big one to the top of the pile. In a Huff Post article, Paul Waugh revealed yesterday that Corbyn had intention to demand that all sitting MPs face a “trigger ballot” of their local parties. In other words, he apparently wanted until some time yesterday afternoon/evening to deselect everyone and have the CLPs pick whomever they wanted instead.
In the best of times, with Labour having a clear six months or so to prepare for a GE, we could argue the ins and outs of the notion of every PLP member having to be reselected. But this is not the best of times. The next general election is seven and a half weeks away. That isn’t enough time to organise even the basic things Labour needs to avoid total disaster, never mind having to add to it the task of organising trigger ballots in every single CLP up and down the country. Instead of organising the ground campaign, you would have had activists wasting energy running internal elections; instead of trying as best as possible to pull the party together, hundreds of divisive contests wouod have taken place, ripping the last vestiges of unity in the Labour Party to shreds.
That’s before you even touch the most basic, pragmatic problems with the Corbyn plan. Again, the election is less than eight weeks away. How long would this little venture have taken to play out? At minimum, if organised extremely efficiently, say, three weeks? But realistically, more like a month to get every candidate in place. That means Labour would have begun the short campaign with effectively no candidates, and huge question marks in many marginals as to who the Labour candidate will eventually be. Hell, Labour would have even run the risk of not getting the names to the returning officer in time for Labour to run in some seats at all.
What better gift could Corbyn have handed to Lynton Crosby, already spoilt for choice, than a never ending cycle of Labour dysfunctionally fighting with itself, in every single seat across all of Britain? Despite this idea being quietly dropped, the fact that this is where Corbyn instinctively went yesterday tells us a lot about how the campaign ahead is going to go: Labour infighting against a backdrop of Tory unity.