Four More Years? Why Jeremy Corbyn will resign

Labour MPs began their move against Jeremy Corbyn partly because they were worried about a snap General Election in October or November, called by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to strengthen his mandate, taking advantage of the weak Labour party to increase his small majority. The other consideration is that the short time until the election would make it impossible for Momentum to deselect Labour MPs and select far-Left replacements.

First Hilary Benn was fired by Jeremy Corbyn in the middle of the night after expressing his concern with Corbyn’s leadership. Then a significant chunk of the Shadow Cabinet resigned while the Parliamentary Labour Party prepared a vote of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership of the PLP. Shadow ministers kept resigning, all explaining that they didn’t feel Mr Corbyn could win a general election and calling on him to go. Labour in the Lords announced it would no longer follow the Labour whip, essentially declaring independence. Yesterday, 172 of Labour’s 230ish MPs voted that they have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Only 40 voted to support him, a mere 17% of the Parliamentary Labour Party. And now members of half-complete new Shadow Cabinet, appointed on Monday, have also begun to resign.

No Confidence

Any leader with any decency, honour or common sense would, now, resign. Mr Corbyn cannot fill a shadow front bench. He cannot lead Labour in Parliament.

And this means Jeremy Corbyn cannot become Prime Minister, because the UK is a Parliamentary democracy, and the Prime Minister becomes Prime Minister by commanding the confidence of the House of Commons. If there was a general election in October and Labour somehow won 400 seats, Jeremy Corbyn would only have the confidence of some 200 of them. He wouldn’t be able to govern. He wouldn’t be able to fill a Cabinet either. Ultimately, in those circumstances, another Labour MP would be forced to form a Government.

But this is all if there’s an October 2016 election. Only 48 hours ago, everyone thought that this was more likely than not. Since then, though, both Boris Johnson and Stephen Crabb, two of the leading candidates to be the next Conservative leader and PM, have both said they wouldn’t seek an early election, meaning that the Parliament could be allowed to run on to May 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn has not resigned. Jeremy Corbyn still says that he’s not planning to resign. He insists that he will only be ousted by a leadership challenger defeating him in a contested election which he expects to win.

I’m not sure that he’ll find a campaign so easy as the first time. It’ll likely be a head-to-head against one candidate, either Tom Watson or Angela Eagle, with the whole soft left, Blairites, Brownites and Spellarite old right united behind them. But the election will come down to competing membership drives between the Corbynites and everyone else, and ultimately I think that Corbyn has the edge.

So let’s play it out. If Jeremy Corbyn faces down his leadership critics and either avoids or wins a leadership challenge, what happens next?

Jeremy Corbyn still won’t have the confidence of his colleagues

Winning another leadership election, or holding on without one, magically mean that the 170+ members of the Parliamentary Labour Party will have confidence in him or his leadership. That bridge is burnt. Mr Corbyn faces four years leading a party with only 40 allies to send on to TV shows to defend him,

Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench will be hugely overworked

The normal size of the Opposition Front Bench is something like 75 MPs, shadowing Secretaries of State, Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and Parliamentary Private Secretaries. They need to be in the House of Commons for ministerial Question Times, debates and statements by their opposites. They need to propose amendments to legislation. They need to lead for the opposition at Westminster Hall debates.

Outside of Parliament, they have to represent their policy areas at conferences, think-tank events and Party commissions. They have to appear on the news when their policy area is in the national eye.

Jeremy Corbyn only has 40 MPs — including himself — who voted to express confidence in his leadership. It’s become clear that he will not be able to appoint a full front bench team, and will force shadow ministers to double-up on jobs. His office is briefing that he might reduce the size of the Shadow Cabinet.

But these 40 brave souls will be chronically overworked, and struggle to fulfil their parliamentary and political duties. The Official Opposition will spend four years operating at half-strength at best, without being able to rely on planted questions among friendly backbenchers.

He’ll be too busy trying to oust his own MPs

Corbyn’s team have been busily briefing that there will be ‘consequences’ for the MPs that don’t back him. He is widely expected to reform the party rules to give the membership control over party policy (rather than the current system of a Policy Forum and annual Conference) and make it easier for activists to deselect centrist MPs.

Mandatory re-selection or easier deselection drive extremism in politics, as we’ve seen in the USA, where the primary system benefits extreme candidates versus moderates. It forces MPs to focus on appeasing their most extreme local elements rather than representing their broad constituency. It makes local politics much nastier. And it’s the holy grail of the Labour Hard Left, who want to purge out the current Parliamentary Party and replace the MPs with more ideologically-suitable candidates (which means the sort of people who sold me newspapers at university).

So 80% of Labour MPs will be fighting selection battles against their party leadership. If they lose, then the Labour Party will run someone else in that seat. Until then, many of these MPs will face Momentum protests outside their offices and harassment on social media. Some might decide to stand as independents. Some of them will win as independents, and others will split the vote and Labour will lose. Some of the new candidates, lacking the incumbency advantage of a sitting, locally-popular MP, will lose Labour seats it would otherwise have won.

All of this will also need attention from the leadership. Momentum can’t do it all. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will have to travel to the constituencies to promote their challengers. It’s another major distraction to the business of opposition.

The Government can ignore him

Every Prime Ministers’ Questions, Corbyn will stand up and challenge Boris or Theresa or whoever it is, but every week all the PM will have to say is

“the Right Honourable Member can’t even command the confidence 20% of his own Members. He needs to do the honourable thing for his party and his country and resign”

And that’s that. The same will apply to his Shadow Cabinet, to his policy initiatives, to anything. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party is over, and he will be easily brushed aside in the national debate.

He’ll be a national joke

Worse, though, is that Jeremy Corbyn will morph from the honest, honourable kind man of the public imagination into a national joke.

I never bought into the myth of honourable Corbyn, seeing how he twisted and lied and obfuscated during the leadership campaign, and how he’s intimidated and threatened his Labour colleagues in the last year. But any trace of that image will disappear.

It’s hard to emphasise how important resignation is to the British genius. It’s part of what it means to be British. When you lose, you resign. When you win, but not by enough, you resign. When you’ve lost the confidence of your boss, your colleagues or your employees, you resign. Britain, for all of the criticism of a culture of blaming others, has a culture of taking responsibility and leaving with dignity. David Cameron resigned. Margaret Thatcher resigned after winning a majority of her MPs’ support but not a big enough majority. Tony Blair agreed to step down after a letter from just 17 MPs. That’s the British way.

In Corbyn, people will see a small, stubborn man unwilling to accept the reality of his situation; a ‘leader’ without followers, organising rallies about how great he is while his party withers. People might like Corbyn. They might even blame the PLP for a week or two. But after a while, all the public will remember is that the Labour Leader is the person who failed but didn’t take responsibility and didn’t resign.

PMQs will become a weekly torture. Mock the Week will make the Corbyn zombie leadership a constant joke. He’ll enter British cultural slang. ‘Corbyn’ will forever mean a leader without followers, a delusional refusal to accept reality, destroying one of the UK’s great political parties in a tragic murder-suicide. It will enter the political lexicon alongside Lansbury, Eden and Duncan Smith as examples of failed leadership.

This will last for FOUR YEARS

And all of the above will carry on for four years. Four years of a Shadow Cabinet of 40. Four years of deselections, reselections, protests and rallies and threats. Four years of the Tories being able to laugh in the faces of the Official Opposition in Parliament and of the country laughing and despairing of Jeremy Corbyn in newspaper columns, TV comedy and even down the pub. Four years in which to kill off the Labour Party.

If Jeremy Corbyn stays on — whether he wins another leadership election or whether he avoids a challenge — this is the picture.

Even Jeremy Corbyn is human, despite what his more-ardent fans might insist. Nobody would be able to withstand this. The psychological strain of becoming a national joke while destroying the political party to which you’ve given your life would be unbearable.

Right now, in the heat of the EU aftermath with the resignations still fresh, maybe he’s digging in with his closest advisers. Perhaps the Chilcott report will buy him a few weeks. Maybe he could even make it through the summer recess. But the idea of Jeremy Corbyn remaining the leader of the Labour party is now ludicrous.

Ironically, the only thing that could save him now is a leadership challenge. An identifiable enemy, a new campaign, a new target and dynamic could buy Corbyn some time. But even if he won the campaign and got his famous ‘mandate’, he’d be right back where he started because none of the dynamics above would have changed.

And so now we wait. Hours, days or weeks, but Jeremy Corbyn will resign because his other options are much worse.

Thanks to Jay Stoll who pointed out that some MPs had started to worry about what happens if there’s no 2016 election. Originally published on Medium

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Could Galloway’s by-election victory have been voided like Rahman’s?

I’ve been reading the fascinating judgment(pdf) that today resulted in Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman being removed and barred from office and his election being voided.

The judgment is long but well-written and genuinely interesting. It covers a lot of ground specific to Tower Hamlets – internal Labour party splits, vote-tampering and personation, and the use of public funds to bribe Mr Rahman’s supporters.

The ruling also dealt with another element of English law that hasn’t been tested in court for a long time – that of undue spiritual influence in an election.

The Representation of the People Act 1983 s115 says that:

(2) A person shall be guilty of undue influence [on an election] —

(a) if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or by any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting;

This provision was originally passed to stop Roman Catholic clergy controlling Irish elections in the 19th Century by threatening their congregations with hellfire, but it has been repeately re-enacted and the Rahman ruling finds that it’s still in force.

The Rahman judgement (para 160) notes

…there is a line which should not be crossed between the free expression of political views and the use of the power and influence of religious office to convince the faithful that it is their religious duty to vote for or against a particular candidate. It does not matter whether the religious duty is expressed as a positive duty – ‘your allegiance to the faith demands that you vote for X’ – or a negative duty –‘if you vote for Y you will be damned in this world and the next’. The mischief at which s 115 is directed is the misuse of religion for political purposes.

The judgment goes on to fine Lutfur Rahman had broken this law by working with Muslim clerics who urged Muslims to vote for him.

This all sounded a bit familiar, and then I remembered why.

 

In 2012 George Galloway stood as a candidate in the Bradford West by-election. Bradford West is a majority Muslim seat. In the course of campaigning, Mr Galloway made the following comments to a largely-Muslim audience:

 

“I believe in the Judgment Day — not all of you do.

I believe that one day we will have to answer to the Almighty for what we did and what we did not do with the life that God gave us.

And I just say this and I ask you to say it, especially to other religious people:

how will you explain, on the Last Day, that you had a chance, on 29 March 2012, to vote either for the guy who led the great campaign against the slaughter of millions of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — you could have voted for him — but instead you voted because of village politics for a party which has killed a million Iraqis?”

 

This certainly sounds like a spiritual threat to people who might vote Labour.

According to Andrew Gilligan, at another rally on the same night Mr Galloway said:

“I’m a better Pakistani than he [my opponent] will ever be. God knows who’s a Muslim and who is not. And a man that’s never out of the pub shouldn’t be going around telling people you should vote for him because he’s a Muslim. A Muslim is ready to go to the US Senate, as I did, and to their face call them murderers, liars, thieves and criminals. A Muslim is somebody who’s not afraid of earthly power but who fears only the Judgment Day. I’m ready for that, I’m working for that and it’s the only thing I fear.”

 

Galloway-Bradford-West

 

A letter claiming to be from Mr Galloway was delivered to many houses in the constituency in the days running up to the election echoing these themes.

 

 

Should the 2012 by-election result in Bradford West have been voided like the Tower Hamlets result? I’m not sure. In the Rahman case it was Muslim clerics doing the spiritual influencing. Here it’s the candidate himself, who is not a Muslim religious authority. But it’s also a much starker and more straightforward spiritual ‘threat’ than the Rahman case.

It’s too late now, of course, with Parliament dissolved and another election underway. But Mr Galloway might have to campaign rather more carefully following the Rahman judgement.

 

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Election Roundup Wednesday 24 December

A few big political developments today:

  1. Benjamin Netanyahu has been disqualified from the Likud leadership campaign – maybe. The party comptroller accused him of using party funds in his leadership campaign and demanded an apology or he’d face disqualification. Mr Netanyahu responded that the comptroller had no authority to disqualify him. So today, the comptroller disqualified him.Despite this, it’s almost certain that Netanyahu will find a way to remain on the Likud leadership ballot, whether it’s by appealing the decision to the internal Likud court, and eventually to the District Court, or by apologising to the Comptroller. Of course, if he apologises then perhaps he’d be attacked by Mr Never-Apologise, Naftali Bennett! It’s also worth noting that we’re past the deadline to register new parties. Anyway, watch this space while the mess is sorted out.
  2. Yisrael Beiteinu’s Faina Kirshenbaum is one 30 people were interviewed under police caution this morning in connection with a huge embezzlement case after a year-long police investigation. The case reportedly involves getting millions of shekels of public money, via NGOs, to fund nonexistent building projects. Also under investigation are a former minister and senior officials in Government and NGOs. Yisrael Beiteinu has condemned the arrests as being politically-motivated; the party (accurately) notes that there’s been some big investigation of Yisrael Beiteinu MKs announced before every election since 1999 and that they usually come to nothing. More details will emerge in the coming days.
  3. Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party will hold a press conference at 16:30 today to announce something. Everyone says that the ‘something’ is that Michael Oren, historian and former Ambassador to the USA, will be running on his list. Oren’s been rumoured to be running with Kahlon for more than a year, so this announcement will surprise nobody. In fact I wonder why it’s taken so long to seal the deal. Also, the official English spelling of the party is “Koolunu” but that sounds like it’s a Pokémon.
  4. We’re getting to the point where there are enough polls to start talking meaningfully about them, so expect some more psephological posts from me in the future, either here or on my other blog.

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A note from the management

You might have noticed that it’s a bit quiet around here.

There’s a reason for this: I’m not a blogger – well, not a proppa blogga (© Sion Simon). There was some point a few years ago when I wanted to rant about something but needed a platform a bit bigger than Twitter, so I set up a Tumblr. After writing a few pieces on the AV referendum, it seemed like it was a good idea to have a central web identity, so I set up this website.

Usually, I only write a blog when it I have something to say – something that hadn’t been said better by anyone else. I fact-check as I go along, sometimes disproving my whole point on the way (these blogs don’t get published). Sometimes by the time I’m halfway through, someone else has made the same point and I don’t have much to add.

These strike me as good guidelines, though I’d probably publish a bit more if I wrote a bit quicker.

However, I did originally decide to limit myself to only a few topics: news, politics and technology. I was keen not to let the blog deteriorate into an online diary: stuff meant for my friends’ consumption only goes on Facebook.

In September, I moved to Israel. Those people who know me on any level will know this, and those who don’t might have figured it out from Twitter. Many new immigrants maintain “Aliya diary” blogs as a way of keeping in touch with friends back home. They’re usually good and I enjoy reading them but, again, they’re not designed for a wider readership. So I didn’t go that way either.

All that said, the original narrow focus of this blog isn’t working for me any more. I’m going to write about a wider range of topics. I’ll do by best to make them accessible to people without a background in whatever I’m talking about, but I might not always succeed.

This means:

  • a bit more-frequent updating (NB Some posts will probably even be less than 2000 words)
  • A bit more variety (my next post will be on Jerusalem’s public transportation)

Finally, if this is putting you off, you can always subscribe to the RSS feeds for the political topics instead. Or just don’t read me. There’s a whole internet out there.

POSTSCRIPT: If you think you should be on the Blogroll on the right then you probably should be. Let me know. 

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Kids React to Osama bin Laden’s death

Benny and Rafi Fine make videos.

One of their projects involves showing children (ages 6-13) Youtube viral videos and then interviewing them about them. This sounds like it could be a pretty awful idea, but the regular panel is made up of  intelligent, articulate, sharp and funny kids, and while some are certainly echoing back things their parents and friends have said there’s still a sense of authenticity.

For a good example, here is “Kids React to Rebecca Black”.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, the Fine brothers decided to use their format and regular panel to discuss his death with the children. I think it makes surprisingly compelling watching.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pkKNPEU8oc?hd=1

HT:Alex Stein of False Dichotomies.

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