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Nick Palmer on What next if Corbyn sweeps the board?

August 31st, 2016

First, the YouGov poll is just one poll, which as we know could be quite wrong. But it fits with CLP nominations, widespread anecdotal evidence and the implications of the increase in membership. This article, for the sake of argument, will assume that the poll is correct. What happens next?

First, what doesn’t happen. Widespread deselections are unlikely for the reasons set out by Luke Akehurst (a prominent non-Corbyn supporter) here:

Note that deselection is difficult even where the sitting MP has suffered massive boundary changes – he or she is still in pole position in a new seat. There will be exceptions, where the MP has been particularly aggressively anti-Corbyn and even anti-Miliband (Simon Danczuk springs to mind) or where two MPs both have a claim on a seat and the more left-wing one wins. But by and large the talk of massive deselections is hot air, and not encouraged by Corbyn.

Similarly, a new party doesn’t work in FPTP conditions. SDP Mark II would take N% of the Labour vote (we can debate what the share would be but common sense and the limited polling on the subject suggests less than half), could reasonably hope not to have LibDem opposition, and might pick up some Tories. That is a formula for a murder/suicide – both Labour and SDP Mark II would get results comparable to UKIP – lots of votes, not many seats. And that’s even not allowing for the less favourable conditions than Mark I had – a strong Liberal Party and prominent, popular leaders.

The most likely scenario IMO is:

  1. Corbyn makes a unity appeal, makes it clear that support for the no confidence motion will be forgotten, and urges that after two leadership elections in 12 months we now get on with being a proper opposition. He doesn’t ask for enthusiasm, merely acquiescence to the views of the membership. Most members will agree, including many who are voting for Smith. A third leadership challenge next year would just be irritating, and a challenger would get slaughtered.
  2. The Shadow Cabinet refills: there are enough middle ground MPs who will feel the insurrection has failed for now and it’s time to get on with the job. Other MPs accept the result without any enthusiasm whatever but only a limited number continuing to shout about it; the others mostly tend their local roots, sort out reselection and await 2020. A handful defect to the Tories or go Independent, quite a few retire.
  3. In 2020, Labour wins or loses. If Labour wins, Corbyn is PM and we’ll see how it works out. If Corbyn loses, he resigns (his demurral that it’s a matter for the party is a polite formality – he won’t stay on in that case) and we have a serious leadership contest. Because of the change in membership, the next Labour leader will also be on the left, but quite possibly a fresh face.
  4. In 2025, who the hell knows?

Note that this sequence leaves most Labour MPs in place, because if under FPTP you have a safe seat and there is no split, you’re likely to win almost regardless of the national picture. In the end, MPs would rather carry on and hope for better days than charge over the cliff of a split. In politics, as in the rest of life, dramatic change comes a little less quickly and cleanly than one might expect.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was the Labour MP for Broxtowe from 1997 to 2010