Immediately following the Chequers incident, I wrote an article explaining that I thought I knew what Theresa May was trying to do, finally. I said I wasn’t sure if it would work, but at least she seemed to have a plan. However, she blew the whole thing up herself within a week, so now I’m back to being unsure as to what the prime minister thinks she’s doing. But so far, so 2018; we live in an age where not only huge political problems but full blown constitutional crises have become commonplace.
Speaking of constitutional crises, here’s one that no one is talking about, one that given the insanity taking place within the current Conservative parliamentary Party could become relevant uncomfortably soon. If there is a general election and the Labour Party wins, it will be the first time a party will have had a majority in the House of Commons without the ability of the relevant MPs to get rid of their leader. This isn’t a minor problem, by the way, and is ironically enough more important to this particular version of the Labour Party than any other party that has ever governed this country.
Imagine that Labour wins and Corbyn moves into Number 10. If he tries to deviate from what would probably be another Ed Miliband-lite manifesto, his own parliamentary party will stop him in his tracks at every turn. If he tries to impose a more radical manifesto upon them, they will try and disown it during the campaign itself, and Corbyn will have huge difficulties getting a lot of it passed once in power. You will have a leader of a party that mostly doesn’t want to do the same things he does. Again, the solution to this in the past is that the parliamentary party deposes the leader and carries on. With Labour under the current rules, as we’ve seen happen twice already, this isn’t actually possible.
What you’ll have instead is something incredibly messy. Basically, a war between the elected representatives of their constituencies and the membership of the Labour Party. I have no idea where that would go, but I feel certain it wouldn’t be good for the country. Nor would it be good for the Labour Party itself, which would tear itself to pieces with no way out – other than another general election, which because the Tories are ripping themselves to pieces as well, could just return the same result.
All of this is why I think a new centrist party, or at least some sort of government of national unity is a lot more likely than people think. We’ve never seen both major parties in the Westminster system have existential crises at precisely the same time before; add into that the very potent issue of Brexit, and the impossible starts to become very possible. I’m not predicting what will happen here – I gave that up after the 2017 general election – I’m simply pointing out that I hear a lot these days about stuff pundits are sure simply cannot happen, that nonetheless we are sleepwalking as a nation towards.
I’ve mentioned this before: usually phrased as, ‘How could Jeremy Corbyn claim to be a Prime Minister who has the confidence of the House of commons when he doesn’t even have the confidence of a majority of his own MPs?’
Mainly, though, I think this is why Labour under Corbyn has no chance of winning a general election: because every Labour candidate will be asked at every turn, ‘Will you support Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister?’. Some can honestly say, ‘Yes’, of course, but a lot more will prevaricate, and refuse to answer the question using evasions along the lines of ‘I will be a Labour MP and of course that means I want and will support the formation of a Labour government.’
By contrast the Conservatives will all fall in line and pull behind their leader, whoever it is, because they always do at elections, no matter how bad the blood gets between them.
Laurence Cox says
Imagine it is May 2022 and Jeremy Corbyn has just won the General Election. What is different? First, there are only 600 MPs and that means that all MPs will have new constituencies and will have to be selected for them before the election. With Momentum dominating local parties there will be a demand for MPs to toe the party line. So,those MPs who have consistently opposed Corbyn will no longer be there.
Secondly, there are a fair number of MPs who are not natural Corbynites but know that they have safe seats for the rest of their lives. They have no incentive to revolt; whether they are in Government or in Opposition they are still in Parliament and getting the massive MP’s salary and solid gold pension. Backbenchers are just voting lobby fodder and no-one expects them to have any ideas of their own.
Corbyn’s real problem after an election victory will not be numbers, but a lack of quality on his front bench. While Civil Servants still carry out politicians instructions, they will carry out stupid instructions as willingly as sensible instructions.
Paul W says
“Corbyn’s real problem after an election victory will not be numbers, but a lack of quality on his front bench. While Civil Servants still carry out politicians instructions, they will carry out stupid instructions as willingly as sensible instructions.”
Oh no, it is far worse than that. They will be pawns in the hands of Whitehall mandarins.
Why not address a more likely outcome and one that Labour seem to be anticipating, that Labour is the largest party without overall control. I have read that Labour would not seek any coalition but put forward a programme and dare others to vote against.
Corbyn would be even less well equipped that May to cope with this, in fact much less well equipped and he would struggle to maintain party discipline within his own ranks. He might become PM but because of being a minority government, disagreements within Labour and his personal shortcomings be quite unable to govern. He might try to appoint his mates to senior cabinet roles, even if he did that would not last and more capable hands would have to be brought in, who would eclipse Corbyn and manage the horse trading.. Corbyn would have to be managed and kept under wraps, a kind of confused figure head.
Paul W says
It has often struck me as interesting that both main parties in Australia have left the choice of the party leader in the hands of their parliamentary caucus. Now we know why: they are the best placed people to make a judgement on the candidates.
I think the Conservatives might have (totally accidentally) hit on a system which is as close to perfect as anything in this fallen world: the parliamentary party selects two candidates which would be acceptable to, between them, a majority of MPs, and then the membership picks one of them. Given a wide enough field to start with, the eventual winner is guaranteed to have a workable (if grudging) level of support within the Parliamentary party.
If you can’t find a minimum of two acceptable candidates within your parliamentary party then you have bigger problems. Or are the Liberal Democrats.
Paul W says
Hmm. Looking at the recent press reports, I don’t think all the 12 Liberal Democrat MPs could’ve got the memo: you know, the one that says you need to find at least two good candidates to have a proper contest.