In the wake of Brexit and Cameron’s resignation as prime minister, there have been calls from inside of the Labour Party, particularly the PLP, to challenge Corbyn’s leadership. It is worth trying to look at this as rationally as possible.
In many ways, blaming Corbyn for Brexit is unfair. It wasn’t his idea to have the referendum (a la Cameron) and while his interventions on the subject were too little, too late, he wasn’t as bad as a lot of people claim he was on the Remain trail. His refusal to share a platform with Cameron was petty, sure, but his first speech on the subject was good and in many ways, his second one was even better. It is easy to forget that as the recriminations fly. Also, it can hardly be put on Corbyn’s shoulders that the Left has been fraying over the last decade, with the old working class vote drifting further and further away from London liberals’ view of the world. He hasn’t helped these things, mind, but he certainly did not create them.
But two things do stick out over the last 36 hours. Corbyn suggesting that Article 50 be triggered immediately was unnecessary, and seemed a little bit of a “I was for Brexit all along” gambit. He seemed as if he really did not care in the slightest and was glad the EU sideshow was over so that we could now get back to talking about important stuff like all women carriages. Worse was the letter that went out to every Labour MP not all that long after the result had been announced, a communique from Labour HQ on how to deal with the press at this historic time. I won’t repeat any of it – you can find it easily enough online as it was leaked seconds after it was emailed – but it demonstrates a leader and an HQ inner circle who are mesmerizingly out of touch with reality. It was treating a Leave vote as some sort of defeat for the Tories while being a victory for Labour. As if they hadn’t noticed that Labour had just been openly campaigning for Remain for the past several months.
It was also completely delusional about what Brexit means for the country, and more pertinently from a Labour perspective, what this means for the centre-left. I stick by what I said about Brexit before yesterday’s vote: the right-wing of the Tories have claimed this as a victory and are already treating it as such. John Redwood was right in there with the idea that post-Cameron we need a “Brexit government”. This morning, we have been treated to talk of the “Brexit dream team”, to include Priti Patel, Liam Fox, Daniel Hannan, Redwood and of course, Boris and Gove. Corbyn not only doesn’t seem ready for this challenge – he does not seem aware that it is coming his way.
There will be a new prime minister in around three months time. Following that, the new Tory leader will want to go to the public with his/her plans for what a post-Brexit Britain will look like. This means that Labour need to be ready to respond to this when it comes (the Tories will require Labour to vote for the dissolution of parliament – a two-thirds majority is required after the Fixed Term Parliament Act). Labour have to allow this to happen – the political consequences of standing in the way of a fresh election would be horrific. So we’re likely to have a general election sometime within the next twelve months. And Labour, with Corbyn as leader, will get totally crushed. I thought so before – the Leave vote only confirms it and makes it likely to be even worse.
There’s still time – just – for Labour to try and get rid of him and select a leader that won’t lead them to oblivion. But if this leadership gamble doesn’t work, it will be very, very ugly for Labour in the 2016/2017 general election.