One of the central narratives of the 2017 general election, as it starts to recede from view, is that while he didn’t win, it was a victory of sorts for Jeremy Corbyn. Many had predicted the election would result in a meltdown for Labour, with the party shedding anywhere from 30 to 100 seats, symbolically dropping below 200 seats in the Commons for the first time since the 1945 Attlee-led success. Instead, Labour actually gained seats, depriving the Tories of a majority.
This has cemented Corbyn’s leadership for the foreseeable future in a way he couldn’t have foreseen when the election was first called, which is an undoubted plus for him. Yet the way things turned out have, oddly, scuppered his masterplan in a way that will start to make itself felt soon enough.
Corbyn and his inner circle figured that losing seats to the Tories, and thus a larger Tory majority, was inevitable, based on results like Copeland. The best they could do was to pump out their vote in London and try and get students to vote elsewhere. The point was to show that while the party had lost, the national vote share had improved under Corbyn (I reckon they hoped for 35, 36% maybe, tops), giving him an excuse to stay in post (not that it was really needed, but best to have a leadership campaign strategy at the ready, just in case).
I think the masterplan was to cause a split in the party, or for the moderates to walk away a la Jamie Reed allowing for reselections in the name of reshaping the PLP, thus allowing for Corbyn to unite the party around a hard-left strategy. The problem with the actual general election result is that he’s now stuck between still trying to do battle with most of his parliamentary party on one hand while trying to say that the party is united in the face of the a crumbling Tory party on the other. So long as the Conservatives can hold themselves together for the next six months – which they seem more than capable of at present – then the cracks in all this will really start to show soon enough. Arguably, they already have with things like the Chuka Umunna amendment.
The real nightmare for Corbyn is this: what if there was a snap election and this time Labour actually won, as in got a parliamentary majority? Giving not the slightest crap for what your MPs think about anything in a Labour Party robbed of Clause One of its constitution through the folly of leaders past may be fine in opposition, but the whole point of being able to command a majority in parliament is that the MPs in question will actually vote for your agenda. Could Corbyn feel confident of that? No. That’s why, shorn of the result he thought he would get, he has no choice but to follow through on deselections and hope for a split in the party. Those lucky Tories.