Listen: Prospect’s Deputy Editor Jay Elwes talk to Peter about how Labour could go about deposing its leader
The evidence is clear. Jeremy Corbyn is by far the least popular of any new opposition leader in sixty years of opinion polls. If he leads Labour into the next general election, the chances are that his party will not just be beaten but thrashed. The single biggest thing that Labour could do to improve its prospects is to replace him with a new, more mainstream, leader. What are the chances of this happening? Let us examine the three possible routes to this outcome.
First, could he be formally deposed? Some Labour MPs think they could nominate a rival and force a new leadership contest and then make sure that Corbyn receives too few nominations to stand. They reckon Labour’s latest rules require any candidate, including Corbyn, to be nominated by 38 MPs or MEPs (Labour members of the European parliament).
Now, while any rival candidate would certainly need to pass the 38-nomination hurdle, the rules are unclear on whether Corbyn would need to do so too—or whether, as the incumbent leader, he has an automatic right to stand. Because the rules are unclear, the decision would need to be made by the party’s National Executive Committee. Corbyn now has a majority on the NEC. Assuming Corbyn wishes to defend his leadership, the NEC is almost certain to back his right to stand.
So, if Corbyn does stand, can he be defeated? I doubt it. Shortly before Christmas, YouGov surveyed Labour’s selectorate, the people with a vote in party leadership elections. They were even more strongly pro-Corbyn than they were in last summer’s contest, despite all the evidence of his lack of voter-appeal. Maybe this will change in the months closer to the next general election, but I doubt his popularity will fade sufficiently to secure his defeat.
A second route to a post-Corbyn world has been advanced by Joe Haines, Harold Wilson’s press secretary in the Sixties and Seventies. He says that Labour MPs…