Saturday, 25 February 2017

What Next for Labour Dissidents? Examining the Nuclear Option

There's no sugarcoating this; Friday morning's results, in the Copeland and Stoke by-elections, were disastrous for Labour. 

I've written in the past about how melodramatic cries of 'disaster' have been overblown, but this feels much different.While the party met its minimum expectation in defeating Paul Nuttall, losing a safe seat to a governing party is, frankly, unforgivable. The reasons for the Copeland defeat are numerous, and complex but, ultimately, the buck must stop with the leadership. 

This may serve as ammunition for a faction of MPs whose raison d'ĂȘtre has been to dethrone Jeremy Corbyn from the day he was elected. But following a coup that was organised with the grace of a drowning rhinoceros, and a messy leadership contest still fresh in the memory, their arsenal is thin.

One thing is certain: Jeremy Corbyn is going nowhere. He has refused to take any blame for the result and, moreover, his fate is in his own hands. Despite not having full control of the party's machinery, his strength is derived from the weakness of his opponents; first in the confused and erratic manner in which they tried to topple him; and second, in their relative unpopularity among party members.

But, besides biding waiting until after 2020, there is a nuclear option, which, if they are desperate enough to invoke, may force Corbyn's hand.

In normal times, Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt, who both resigned their seats in quick succession, would have been replaced without much fuss, and most of Westminster would have had a good night's sleep on Thursday. 

Instead, Labour is a bloodied party, whose internal, irrevocable divisions, exposed by two leadership elections, have been compounded by a messy Article 50 process. The bulk of the press coverage, therefore, centered on the possibility of Labour losing both seats.

Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt had clearly run out of patience; perhaps realising that instead of lingering in backbench anonymity for the next three-and-a-half years, their talents would be put to better use elsewhere.

The question now is; how many MPs have had a similar epiphany, and, furthermore, are they willing to weaponise this for the 'greater good'?


It's clear the anti-Corbyn faction within the PLP have little option but to wait; wait for wipeout in 2020; wait for the third leadership contest in five years; and then wait for the 2025 general election until they can mount a strong challenge against the Conservatives.

Alternatively, by threatening to resign en masse from their seats, Jeremy Corbyn would be forced into making a huge decision; call their bluff and face more than a dozen risky by-elections, or submit.

A wave of by-elections triggered in such a way could be a death sentence; not only for Cobyn, given he would have no choice but step down in the face of yet further evidence of Labour's electoral decline, presuming the current trend continues, but for the party itself; as previously loyal voters decide once and for all they've had enough of a party engulfed in perpetual civil war.

Knowing that doing nothing would almost certainly lead to defeat in 2020, will this anti-Corbyn faction be desperate enough to invoke the nuclear option, and risk it all?