The ultimatum that Jeremy Corbyn should step down if Labour’s fortunes do not improve appears to have been handed down by somebody considered to be a loyal supporter of Corbyn – Len McCluskey, possibly one of the most well known ‘Union barons’.
Part of the problem is that we will not known for certain if Labour’s fortunes have improved. The Corbyn camp normally draw attention to the huge mass membership of Labour, attributed to a personal popularity of Corbyn himself, citing that Labour is at least one of the largest socialist parties in Europe. But we know that metrics can be unreliable. Donald Trump came to win ‘from behind’. He was even lagging in polling terms at the beginning of the night of the US election itself. Pollsters in the UK have likewise had a run of bad luck, in not being able to predict reliably the outcome of the 2015 general election (on the whole) and the EU referendum. But there were, arguably, runes to be read. For example, the wipeout in Scotland, which predates Jeremy Corbyn and which appears untouched by Kezia Dugdale, was expected. Likewise, a revival of Labour’s fortunes in Scotland in the next general election is not widely anticipated by many.
The traditional explanation of Corbyn’s bad poll ratings has been a protracted effect of the ‘coup’ that never was, or the ‘honeymoon’ experienced by Theresa May as a new Conservative Prime Minister in office. Or it could be the lack of support of what has boringly become the ‘mainstream media’ as a term of abuse, invariably sponsored by Rupert Murdoch in some form. And there is possibly some truth in this, in that the Labour Party visibly imploded, and appeared proud at doing so, in broad daylight in the aftermath of the referendum. Whatever the reasons are, apart from local rallies, or on Twitter, Jeremy Corbyn does not appear to be getting his message across with the longstanding Labour voters who have switched to UKIP.
Such new voters tend to say their decision is not out of any love for Nigel Farage, but some of them appear to loathe Corbyn, feeling that Corbyn has nothing to say on social housing (completely untrue). But the thorn in the side of some people who voted for Brexit, part of the ‘taking back control’ meme, is that there appears to be no immediate resolution to the thunderous immigration levels. But these levels have remained high even with Theresa May as SoS for the Home Department. The narrative still remains of people from Eastern Europe undercutting local workers, and claims and counterclaims remain. But the perception is that Jeremy Corbyn is friendly to the idea of free movement of people, and there is a sense from some that even if the UK economy implodes due to withdrawal from inclusion in the single market this is a ‘price well worth paying’ to misquote Norman Lamont, if immigration levels come down. For many, there is no discussion to be had about the value of migrant populations to the fabric of society or economy of the country, in the same way there is no longer a discussion about Labour is incompetent with the economy.
If Jeremy Corbyn were not to step down, it is unlikely that the current parliamentary party has the energy or inclination to host a third leadership election much as that might seem desirable. If Corbyn refuses to move, the best the parliamentary party is to try to work with a grassroots membership to sell Labour on the doorstep. But it is hard to get away from the genuine unease of some Labour grassroots in wanting to sell, for example, a Trident policy with which they may not necessarily agree. Not all will believe in the arguments of a minimum income, for example, either. But the tragedy is that Labour call ill afford such internal troubles mean that the UK withdraws seamlessly from the European Court of Justice which would bode well for the repeal of the Human Rights Act, or let the NHS and social care further implode. There is much agreement on the need to tackle industrial scale tax avoidance or the abuse of the gig economy, but there are serious doubts whether Jeremy Corbyn is necessarily the man who can appeal to the broad range of potential Labour membership. And this is not even to touch the concerns of some on Corbyn’s foreign policy, though this could well be small fry with what President-Elect Donald Trump has to offer imminently.
The only definitive way of knowing whether Corbyn will do a Trump, snatch victory from the jaws of victory, is to put it to the test. But of course it could all end badly yet again for Labour. If Labour fails, there will be plenty of people who will claim ‘I told you so’, but there will also be plenty of people who will think the daggers were out for Corbyn from the very start. The side-effect of the second Labour leadership election is that it effectively made Jeremy Corbyn bullet-proof. Admittedly, there is a substantial number of uncertainties, such as what the current Government wish to propose as ‘red lines’ in its exit from the European Union. However, whatever the feeling of what is ‘right’ for the economy or society, there’ll be some Labour longstanding voters flirting with UKIP who might be very angry that Labour didn’t wish to support Brexit really. Corbyn is essentially in a ‘no win’ situation, virtually impossible to triangulate out of, unless he makes the 2020 election a referendum on the running of the Conservatives’ Brexit, and who knows what would happen there. The danger of course is that Labour bins Corbyn just before the election, then has to bin the new leader after losing a 2020 general election.