I first thought about making the first word of the headline “if”, but then figured why bother, let’s get real here. I should also confess that the impetus for this article is a conversation I had this week with a friend of mine, Tim Barnes, who I should also by way of disclosure reveal is a Tory, about what Corbyn will do when Labour loses at the next general election. Tim thinks he will have to resign; I don’t think Corbyn “has to” do anything, and will stay on as leader of the Labour Party – but perhaps not leader of the opposition if things go really badly for Labour (which they could). This article is thus a matter of public record between Tim and I for when 2020 rolls around.
I will take the rest of the article to explain why I do not think Corbyn will step down as leader after the next general election, even if Labour loses really, really badly (let’s define that as sub-100 seats). First off, the Corbynites have already said as much, citing Kinnock remaining leader following the 1987 general election defeat. This proves they are already preparing the ground for this to happen. Secondly, stepping down as leader of a party after a bad election result is nothing more than a Westminster convention, and Corbyn has already treated such things with open distain. The best example of this was refusing to vacate the leadership after 80% of parliamentary party voted no confidence in him. If he won’t leave when most of the PLP openly call for his head, why do so after a general election defeat? Both of these situations are just Westminster whatever-ness to Jeremy Corbyn. He feels he owes his true allegiance to the “movement”, and by that I don’t mean the Labour movement but rather the hard to define movement whose boundaries are most of the current Labour leadership, Momentum and the theoretical millions of young people out there awaiting false consciousness to slip away and join.
I actually think that not only would Corbyn remain leader of the Labour Party following a terrible defeat in a general election, he would feel positively energised by such a loss. I’d go as far as to add that the ideal general election result in 2020 from Corbyn’s perspective is Labour reduced to less than a hundred seats with the Tories holding onto 450+. He would see that as a perfect demonstration of the inability to change anything through parliamentary politics and thus a need to “take to the streets”. Surely the suffering that a huge Tory majority would bring to the poorest would lead to revolution and Britain ending up like Chavez’s Venezuela, right? In the meantime, the people who suffer won’t be Corbyn and his Islingtonians, that much is certain; let the chavs be the meat that feeds the new dawn for socialist Britain. It’s what they’re there for after all…..
What the Labour membership does when Corbyn refuses to budge will be the interesting bit. Do they turn on him then? Of course, it will be mostly an academic exercise at that point anyhow, whatever they decide to do.
Nigel Huish says
I’ve been thinking the same thing for a while in terms of the potential sub-100 seats for labour after the next election – making labour even more irrelevant than they are now. But, why the assumption that the Tories will get +450? Surely there are enough disaffected moderate left-wing voters (and remainers), like me, who could never countenance voting for the Tories but who will go to the LibDems and the Greens instead? Could it even be that the official opposition after the next general election is made up of a coalition led by the LibDems (or even the SNP – if they are still with us by then..)?
Or am I being far too optimistic in these dark days?
For a start, the 450+ Tory seats is simply a scenario, not a prediction on my part. But the reason it could happen comes down to the way First Past the Post works. If the Tories can draw on their traditional support base and unite Leavers behind them, all while facing a completely fractured opposition, it could be possible.
John Goymer says
This is such an empty load of tosh it’s hard to generate the motivation to reply. The assumption that all Corbyn supporters are young is one of several false assumptions. Jeremy Corbyn to me – as a 63 year old – represents all that is good about post war Britain. An authentic desire for democratic socialism based on a fairer, more equal society and an end to austerity. I loathe the falsehood of ‘new’ Labour, with all its gloating pretence and its pampering to corporate interests. The biggest con trick of them all has been exposed. The right wing establishment are desperate to see Corbyn fail and are clearly hell bent on his demise. Excellent reason in itself to ensure Jeremy Corbyn has my unbending support.
Well that’s all well and good then… a post-war politician apart from the fact that we aren’t living in the halcyon of your childhood with everyone excited about the coronation, tv sets, the end of rationing. Or even the realities of that time.
It is the 21st century with 21st century problems, by the next general election there will be voters with a birth year that starts with a 2. What use is a good old-fashioned politician to the world they live in?
But surely you accept that if Corbyn leads the Labour part to defeat – especially a catastrophic defeat – then he should go, even if you claim that it was a rejection of Corbyn due to a media cabal rather than a rejection of his politics?
Apart from unreliable opinion polls what evidence do you have to believe that the Labour Party under Corbyn will suffer a devastating defeat in 2020 ? There has been a modest revival in support for the Liberal Democrats from a very low base, mostly at the expense of the Conservatives ,UKIP and possibly the Greens, though most of their defectors claim to have gone back to the new left wing Labour Party.
We have had all these claims of a collapse of the Labour Party over the last 60 years but it has not happened yet. In Germany the SPD which was also in decline has shown signs of dramatic recovery under a new left wing leader in the run up to this year’s election. Let us wait and see. One lost by election doth not a disaster make, especially in an area where Labour support has been declining for many years. In the neighbouring formerly safe seat of Workington their majority was just over 700 and of course next door is the seat of our beloved leader.
This is not 1983 when many people were tired of almost 40 years of Socialist policies and wanted a complete change from trade union strikes and domination. A few strikes by Southern Railway guards, mostly affecting fairly affluent Tory voting commuters, when even most Labour voters travel in their own cars in the rest of the country, is not really going to have the same effect unless militancy really grows as the downside of Brexit hits the poorer people with rising prices but they will only have themselves to blame as they were the ones who mostly voted for it. Actions have consequences but the poor will blame the Conservatives, not Mr Corbyn even though he has supported Brexit and that will be forgotten in their anger at being misled.
It is more a question of when Corbyn would step down.
A younger Corbyn would most likely carry on, so in that sense I would agree, and I am sure his first priority in all of this is his succession. However he is not a ‘young’ old man; mentally not so quick either, so on a personal level, aside from anything else, I would predict that he would need to wind down.
Further to my comment I should have said the nearby seat of Barrow in Furness where the Labour MP had a majority of 795, down from 5,208 in 2010, not Workington where they had a majority of 4,686.
Corbyn feels he is mandated, not by electorate success, but by his grass roots support.
In the event of a loss, the PLP will against issue a vote of confidence against him and therefore another membership election.
And the membership, reduced to hard core Corbynites, paranoid about ‘Blairites’, assuming the economy will crash and support will turn for Corbyn, will probably vote for him again.
Corbyn may be unassailable thanks to the Labour leadership rules and a membership which does not see failure as failure.
The only sensible solution, perhaps, is the resurrection of the SDP. Or a UK alliance with the Liberals.
A coalition government may be the result, or, as with the old SDP, its eventual result could be a return to the middle ground, trying to persuade to the masses not just the active fringe, for Labour.