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.