Wulfrun Phil says the Syria vote could decide the LAB succession

Wulfrun Phil says the Syria vote could decide the LAB succession

But it may not work to Hilary Benn’s advantage

As the odds on Hilary Benn succeeding Jeremy Corbyn shorten, the political betting market is clear in its prediction – that the successor to Corbyn is very likely to be one of those who supported air strikes in yesterday’s vote. Almost all of those with the shortest odds come from that camp – Benn at 4/1, Jarvis 9/2 and Watson 9/1. Umunna at 16/1 and Johnson 25/1 also feature and the opposition in spirit of David Miliband is still present as a fading spectre at 18/1.

Such perceptions fail to address the thinking of the Labour membership selectorate. For many of those who voted for Corbyn, Iraq 2003 had defined their politics for a decade, and they will now treat the Syria 2015 vote in similar vein. Hilary Benn has put himself into prime position as the potential candidate of the Labour right in a future leadership election, especially with the 4.5% who voted for Liz Kendall, and earned plaudits from across the political spectrum. How though will his stance play out with a membership overwhelmingly opposed to an extension of UK air strikes into Syria?

Corbyn will fall in time when a succession of local and by election failures, poor polling and continuing disunity convinces enough of the same Labour members who voted for Corbyn that he would be bound to lead Labour to catastrophic failure at the 2020 general election. Those members were overwhelmingly on Corbyn’s side in opposing air strikes, and will be deeply disappointed by last night’s vote. It is more likely that Benn’s role on Syria will mark him out as a challenger who could not be supported even for those searching for an alternative to Corbyn who gives Labour a better chance.

In short Benn may now be the prime challenger, but his chances of actually carrying the membership in a head-to-head with Corbyn will be diminished. If the Syria vote now becomes a totemic issue on the left, that will apply to a lesser degree to any of those voting with the Government last night.

So what value is there in the betting? Of the remainder with the shortest odds, Nandy at 10/1, Lewis 25/1 and McDonnell 25/1 are all “continuity Corbyn” candidates, unlikely to appeal to those in the centre of the party seeking a compromise candidate as Corbyn’s allure starts to fade.

There is just one remaining MP in the top ten in the betting odds – Keir Starmer at 16/1. If like me you feel that a successful challenger to Corbyn will eventually have to come in the form of a unifying candidate capable of appealing to many of the longer standing members who voted for Corbyn in the first place and possibly Ed Miliband before that, he stands out by a mile in a very limited field of potential challengers from the centre of the party. I’ve placed a tidy sum on him today as a consequence.

One scenario where Starmer could come through would be if say Benn failed to oust Corbyn in around 2017 or 2018, leaving an opportunity for a further contest in which many on Labour’s right would compromise. At that point they would switch to backing a centrist candidate in order to ensure that someone with a chance of beating Corbyn made it to the final run-off vote.

Wulfrun Phil is a long standing member of the Labour Party and posts occasionally on PB

Comments are closed.