He is well positioned to win a 2020 contest
Who would have thought a year ago that as 2016 draws to a close, both Nigel Farage and David Cameron would have departed the stage while Jeremy Corbyn looks all the more secure in post? It’s a salutary reminder that there are always risks in getting too far ahead of ourselves. But where there are risks, so there are opportunities.
At the risk of setting up an almighty hostage to fortune, I don’t believe that there’s any way that Jeremy Corbyn can win a general election. He is quite simply unelectable. His values and history do not match far too many people’s and he has the skills and temperament of a back-bench rebel, not a leader. Labour, under the right leader, certainly could be electable – the Conservatives have a tough job negotiating the shifting sands of Brexit while keeping the economy, health, education and the rest (prisons, for example) ticking along – but Corbyn isn’t.
So the first big question in trying to hazard a guess at who might replace Corbyn is when it will happen. It could well be in Summer 2020; it might be earlier. If it is earlier, it can only be because either someone has mounted a successful challenge, because Corbyn has vacated the post or because of an early election. The memories of this year’s challenge will, however, scar and there can realistically only be one more challenge this parliament. If it is to work, it’ll need to be by a heavyweight and it’ll need Labour members’ opinions to move from where they are now. Of the two, I’m not convinced that any of Labour’s mainstream big-hitters have the desire to run the risk.
The chances of Corbyn standing down are higher but still not particularly strong. If he can weather a storm like last summer, facing down mass resignations from his cabinet, an overwhelming vote of no confidence from his MPs and a full-on leadership challenge, he’s unlikely to quit easily in the future. Yes, he might be double digits behind in the polls but the far left have the leadership and only need to get lucky once to win the big one.
I certainly wouldn’t rule out either pre-2020 departure scenario but by some way the more likely date is immediately after an election defeat after a full parliament. Of course, were he to win, the betting market (and much else) would be utterly transformed. Again though, let’s set an appropriate percentage against that contingency and then file it away for now.
So, who would be well-placed to succeed after a defeat, perhaps a catastrophic one? To my mind, Sadiq Khan looks a decent bet. He does have the disadvantage that he’s not in the Commons at the moment, though that also means that he’s spared having to choose between openly rebelling, equivocating and becoming a Corbynite lapdog.
As Mayor of London, he has a powerful independent position from where he can promote his own brand of Labour politics direct to a very large proportion of the Labour membership. So far, he seems to be doing well. His term also conveniently ends at the same time that the next parliament starts. Boris proved that it’s possible to re-enter the Commons even while Mayor; Sadiq wouldn’t even have to double-hat.
Would he want to return? He seems ambitious enough to aspire to the top job but he’s only 46 and could easily run for and win a second term; national ambitions could then wait until after the 2025 election, assuming no early polls. However, were he playing that long game, he’d have to factor into his thinking the two outer scenarios: on the one hand, that Labour might win in 2025, in which case there’d probably be no vacancy until he was about to turn sixty at the earliest; on the other, that if Corbyn’s successor went from bad to worse, there might not be a Labour Party worth taking over. And to wait over eight years gives huge scope for talent to come through. 2020 is the better bet for him by some way.
If 2020 is the date and if Sadiq is a candidate, how would he do? Obviously, there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and then but he looks to me like the kind of unity candidate that a party looking to put pieces back together again could go for. He shouldn’t struggle for nominations and, as mentioned, should start with a natural advantage given the weight of London’s vote. Certainly, for the bet to come in requires quite a lot to line up. On the other hand, at 33/1 with Bet365, you’d be well rewarded.