If Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership election — which seems increasingly likely — then there is a large group of anti-Corbyn MPs in the Labour party who are willing to split the party, elect their own leader, and launch a lawsuit to seize the official “Labour” name and legal assets, according to The Telegraph.
The plan is being taken seriously.
Labour’s largest donor, the millionaire John Mills, said today, “this really would be Armageddon for members of parliament … the downsides of having a split are so huge.” And LabourList has a good summary of the “semi-split” plan being discussed around Westminster:
The leading members of the anti-Corbyn gang want to get going immediately and are exploring the possibility of three major changes: picking their own leader and shadow Cabinet; applying for recognition from the Commons Speaker as the official Opposition; and even trying to claim ownership of the Labour Party name and assets.
As the New Statesman points out, it is theoretically possible — albeit unlikely — for the majority of Labour MPs to somehow ignore or expel Corbyn from the Parliamentary Labour Party and to obtain recognition as the official Opposition, ignoring the actual membership of the party.
So Labour faces two basic choices, both of which are terrible.
- Stick with Corbyn, and get wiped out in the 2020 general election, creating a generation of unopposed Conservative rule.
- Split the party, and face oblivion.
The first scenario is currently the most likely. The polls are saying one thing right now: The Tories are wiping the floor with Labour. The most recent poll, from ICM, looks like this:
- CON 43% (+4)
- LAB 27% (-2)
The very left-wing members of Labour that have talked privately to Business Insider admit that they do not believe Corbyn is able to win a general election. That means Labour losing, or certainly failing to gain, seats in the next general election, giving the Conservatives a third straight victory. With Labour blocked out of Scotland by the SNP, and blocked out of the suburban South by the Tories, the future of Corbyn’s Labour looks very much like a party with permanent minority status, an historic footnote, or as some sort of sizeable left-wing pressure group that retains MPs on the wrong benches in the House.
Splitting the party and keeping the name may look tempting to Labour MPs and moderate voters. But it would be incredibly unlikely to work — Corbyn is the legitimate party leader. There is no question of that. He will have survived two votes and therefore is likely to win a legal challenge.
The last time the party split was in 1981, was when the Gang of Four (Shirley Williams, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Roy Jenkins) left Labour to form the centre-left Social Democratic Party. Shortly after, the SDP-Liberal alliance reached 50.5% in the polls, 27 points ahead of both Labour and the Tories. But Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system doesn’t reflect opinion polls — it reflects the geographic spread of the vote, which the SDP did not have. This is what happened next, as The Guardian wrote on July 19:
In June 1983, two years after the SDP was founded, the SDP-Liberal alliance contested its first general election. It got 25% of the vote, exceptional for a new party but exactly half its giddy rating in the 1981 Gallup poll. Labour, despite still being led by the derided Foot, got 2% more. Labour also held on to 209 of its Commons seats. The SDP got six.
The split in the left-of-centre vote kept Thatcher in office with crushing Commons majorities for seven more years. In 1990, after never quite regaining its initial popularity, the SDP was disbanded.
There is one other variable: Corbyn is 67. His birthday is in May, meaning he will probably be 72 by the time of the 2020 vote. His age may require him to stand down, giving the party the chance to elect a new leader before the race. Depressingly — for those who want Labour to succeed at the ballot box — this is the best-case scenario.
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