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.
Jon Neale says
An early election this soon after the EU referendum is surely going to be fairly horrible for everyone? Not to say it won’t happen, but…
For the Conservatives many of them campaigned for a Remain vote. The new leader, Boris, was on the opposite side of the fence and will be setting out a future outside the EU. Embarrassing for many MPs who previously campaigned on how bad it would be outside Europe.
Early days, but indications are the Conservative “leadership to be” are backtracking on things like immigration, spending EU money on the NHS and suchlike. Many Leave voters are going to be annoyed to say the least, and moving towards UKIP for an alternative vision of what being out of the EU means when this becomes clearer.
Plus by the end of the year it may start to become clear just how bad an error leaving actually is, with a few high profile company exits, falling house prices, Scotland wishing to leave the UK and big arguments with the rest of Europe. Without the boundary commission changes having come through yet, a Conservative win will surely be difficult even with the current inept opposition.
The Lib Dems might well pick up a lot of hacked off Remain voters across the country. Whilst it may not translate into winning MPs in many places (though I can always hope!), they could attract sufficient votes to change the results in many places.
UKIP will be looking for a new mission and the obvious strategy would be some kind of anti-immigration party to pick up votes, especially if the Tories go for a relationship with the EU that allows free movement of people to continue.
Would have thought the SNP will be having a great time though.
Will be very interesting along the way, though I’d have much preferred politics to be more boring!
If a party – say the lib dems – were to promise a 2nd referendum on the EU if they were voted in, and depending on how strongly remainers feel and how they are distributed across constituencies, I could see them picking up enough votes to be in a coalition again.
Sean Blake says
In the event of an early election It would be a good idea for either Labour (maybe under a new leader, although Corbyn at least voted for Remain) or the LibDems to offer us a commitment to reviewing the case for another referendum on the EU. However, there is a danger under current party rules that there may not be enough time for Labour to have a new leader in place.
I think the potential for a LibDem alliance with Labour on this issue might appeal to some who are already feeling misled by Nigel Farage’s backtracking on diverting savings to the NHS and Daniel Hannan’s denial that the Leave campaign promised to reduce immigration, saying now that Brexit Tories would only be aiming to control it.