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Labour's Mutineers Are All Plot, No Plan

01/07/2016 16:57

"Next time that you want to stab Caesar, make sure that you're not holding a plastic spoon". At a time when politics has become increasingly like the Thick of It, Labour's revolters may regret not heeding Malcolm Tucker's advice.

Indeed, Labour's rebels appear to have come armed with little more than plastic spoons, as events unfolded it became clear that their palace revolution had much planning but little strategy. If you're going to bring down the leader, you need to have several important factors, including the appearance of legitimacy, a clear plan of attack, and, most importantly, a credible successor - it's clear that those leading the coup have not managed any of these

The mutineers seemed to hope that Brexit would gave them the appearance of legitimacy. Losing the vote, after Corbyn lead a much criticised campaign, seemed to be a banker for this. As Angela Eagle put it in her resignation letter on Monday: "under your leadership the case to remain in the EU was made with half-hearted ambivalence rather than full-throated clarity." However, with Lord Ashcroft's polls showing that Labour voters backed remain at about the same rate as SNP voters, Labour members may be more tempted to agree with Angela's comments from two weeks previously: "Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired, he has not stopped. We are doing our best, but if we are not reported, it is very difficult". Additionally, the way the coup has been worked, with carefully timed resignations designed to inflict maximum damage, at a time when the Conservatives were in real meltdown, has lead huge numbers of party members, much of the trade union movement, and even Angela Eagle's own CLP brand the rebels as irresponsible.

The plan was also lacking. After most of the Shadow Cabinet resigned, as publicly as possible, and MPs voted 172-40 in no confidence of Corbyn, again and again commentators and party grandees called on him to quit - he didn't. As things went on, it became increasingly clear that those leading the attempted overthrow had put little thought into what would happen if Corbyn dug his heels in and fought back. Much like the Tory Brexiteers, the 'chicken coup' leaders seemed reluctant to actually mount a leadership challenge. With every sign showing that Corbyn would easily beat any challenger in a leadership election, you can't blame them for not wanting to run.

This is the main problem for the rebels: they have no credible alternative leader. Many names were thrown out by the media: Tom Watson, Yvette Cooper, Owen Smith, Dan Jarvis and Chukka Ummuna, before it was revealed that it would probably be Angela Eagle who will be the one to face Corbyn. Except she is holding off actually mounting the challenge, perhaps she wonders that, having coming fourth out of five in the deputy leadership contest ten months ago, she may not have that good a chance against the party leader with the biggest mandate in the history of UK politics.

Whatever the outcome, it will be difficult to unite the party. An SDP style split by MPs seems unlikely, with all major unions committed to the leadership it is unclear where the funding for such a party would come from, or that MPs who defected would hold onto their seats. If Corbyn wins the leadership contest and reaffirms his mandate, it would be difficult for dissenting MPs. The spectre of deselection, previously ruled out by team Corbyn, has re-risen, and some 'coupers' may soon find themselves facing challenges of their own in their CLPs. If Corbyn is kept off the ballot, it seems likely there will either be a mass rebellion or mass exodus of members, and many of those involved in the revolt would not be forgiven by much of the membership for their role in bringing down the leader. A possible unity leader (assuming Corbyn steps down) would be Andy Burnham, who publicly didn't take part in the coup - perhaps he remembered Hesletine's warning: "He who wields the knife never wears the crown".

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