Will Jeremy Corbyn Really Be Barred From Becoming PM In A Minority Labour Government?

Tony Blair feeds Lib Dem fantasy and risks derision. But ex-civil service chief suggests a "conversation" would take place.

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Minority report

As a veteran of countless election campaigns, Tony Blair knew exactly what he was doing today when he waded into the fray. His attack on our “utterly dysfunctional” politics was accompanied by a headline-grabbing suggestion that he was supporting tactical voting to stop both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson from getting a majority.

Blair was fully aware that his broadside against the “extremes” of the current Tory and Labour parties was always going to trigger derision from his critics in both parties. But it felt like his target was not just the wider electorate (vote Lib Dem or independent to stop the Tories), but the Labour MPs who will have a crunch decision should there be another hung parliament.‌

For most of his Reuters event, Blair stuck to the assumption that the Tories are on course to become the largest party after the election, based on recent polls. Following Jo Swinson and Ed Davey’s remarks in recent days (have they seen some dire internal polling?), he signalled that the best that progressives can hope for is to deny Johnson an outright majority.

But there was then a question from the audience about whether Blair could envisage a ‘government of national unity’ (GNU to its friends). For Blair, whose sole focus is a second referendum that could overturn Brexit, the idea of a minority (or even a small majority) government made up of Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and moderate Tories - but without Corbyn at the helm - sounded all too tempting.‌

“Yeah, it’s possible,” he said. “It’s possible because then people realise they’ve got no alternative but to do that but it just depends what the configuration is. Then, by the way, you will get the thing [Brexit] resolved in a proper way. Because I think there will be an enormous desire then, to make sure that you find a suitable candidate and get the thing done.”

That phrase ‘suitable candidate’ got some hares running. Here was the former leader of the Labour party, a three-term prime minister, hinting that Corbyn was not such a candidate and could be replaced by someone else. It didn’t sound very different from Swinson saying Corbyn would have to go if any minority Labour administration was to get Lib Dem support.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine who would be ministers in a ‘government’ of national unity, let alone what legislation it would undertake. Much, much more likely than a GNU is a minority Labour government, supported on a day-to-day basis by other parties.

And tonight’s new ICM poll (and yes it’s only one poll), reporting just a seven point gap between Labour and the Tories (with the 34% the highest Labour has been since mid-May), will give some hope that Johnson isn’t cruising to victory as many assume.

Now, as I’ve said before, many (including Blair) misunderstand the current member-led Labour party when they presume that it would allow its leader to be picked by another party in the wake of an election. If Labour has eight or nine times more MPs than the Lib Dems, why should the smaller party call the shots? Couldn’t Labour just call Swinson’s bluff, dare her to vote down Corbyn as PM and suffer the consequences - losing forever the chance of a referendum - if she triggers another election?

Yes, Gordon Brown eventually offered to step aside in 2010 after Nick Clegg made similar demands (in vain it turned out), but that was at the end of his tenure as PM and at the end of 13 years of Labour government. Don’t forget too that there will be up to 50 newly elected Labour MPs who are firmly on the Left of the party and likely to be stubbornly loyal to Corbyn. Add too those MPs (not all on the Left) who are utterly against a second referendum.

There’s the further problem of who would be acceptable as a ‘caretaker’ PM during this strange, six-month administration. Labour will lack an elected deputy to step up. How would Labour MPs choose their ‘leader in parliament’? Would Hilary Benn step in? Would Harriet Harman? More credible would be John McDonnell perhaps, only because if he and Corbyn jointly agreed on the idea, then it could be more palatable to members.

If Labour does end up in a minority government, the Lib Dems would want to gut most of the more radical bits 2019 manifesto, like nationalisations and shares-grabs of companies. The Libs could agree a Budget to jack up taxes on the top 5% and pump cash into public services, but would McDonnell stand for his programme being watered down by a party that was not even in coalition with Labour?

The ‘replace Corbyn’ scenario certainly seems outlandish the more you think about it. Yet it persists as a Remainer fantasy. And what’s given the idea legs tonight is a SkyNews interview by former civil service chief Lord Kerslake. He said that if Labour was forced into a minority administration they would need to talk to the SNP and their demand for an independence referendum.

But Kerslake (who advised McDonnell in the past and was the man who told Karie Murphy she was leaving the leader’s office) also reminded everyone that “the Lib Dems have said they couldn’t support a Jeremy Corbyn led government”. He then added: “All of that no doubt would form part of the conversation that Labour would be having informally with those two parties.”

Michael Gove (who thought the real Kerslake story was talks about SNP plans) tried to seize on Kerslake’s words but seems to have totally missed the main story. Here was a former Whitehall mandarin, with close ties to the shadow chancellor, who seemed to be saying Labour would have ‘a conversation’ with minor parties about whether Corbyn should stay.‌

Blair said today that this election was “the weirdest of my lifetime’. If Corbyn managed to lead his party a second time in denying the Tories a majority, it would be truly weird if he then decided to depart the scene. But given the twists and turns of the past year, it would be very, very 2019.

Quote Of The Day

“They’re peddling two sets of fantasies. And both, as majority governments, pose a risk it would be unwise for the country to take.”

Tony Blair on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn’s manifestos.

Monday’s Election Cheat Sheet

Tony Blair backed tactical voting to deny both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson an outright majority in the election. Corbyn hit back that his manifesto was “a sensible, costed plan”.‌

Downing Street announced the PM planned to hold a slimmed-down Queen’s speech and the state opening of parliament on Thursday December 19, just two days after MPs return to parliament to be sworn in following the election. The Commons could sit as late as Monday December 23rd. No.10 admitted if Labour won the election the plan would change.‌

Corbyn promised to “put bad landlords out of business” and bring in inflation-linked rent controls in England. Landlords would face a “property MOT”, with fines of up to £100,000 their properties were found to be sub-standard.‌

Ian Taylor, former Tory MP for Esher and Walton and noted Europhile, tweeted a letter of support for the Liberal Democrat challenger to his successor Dominic Raab. A recent polling analysis suggested Raab’s safe majority could be slashed by the Lib Dems.

Karl McCartney, former MP and Tory candidate for Lincoln, apologised for retweeting posts from former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson. Lee Anderson, the Tory candidate for Ashfield, was caught on microphone trying to fake a doorstep interaction with a supporter to make it look spontaneous.

As he took part in a bricklaying photocall, Jeremy Corbyn was asked by ITV’s LIbby Wiener if his campaign had ‘hit a brick wall’. He replied: “That is a really poor joke, I would have thought you could have done better than that. The campaign’s going just great.”

What I’m Reading

My 13 Elections Ranked - Phil Webster, Tortoise

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