Alastair Meeks on the next Labour leader betting market
From the start of his leadership of the Labour party, many Labour MPs struggled to contain their doubts about him. Even before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, Mike Gapes was quoted as saying: “I’ll show him as much loyalty as he showed other leaders.” Within three months, nearly a third of his party including his own shadow Foreign Secretary were in mutiny against his preferred line on airstrikes on Syria. By the following March, his team had categorised MPs into gradations of loyalty. Only 19 were described as “core group”.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, Labour’s Parliamentary party embarked on an extended chaotic attempted coup against its leader. Despite securing the support of only 40 MPs in a confidence vote, Jeremy Corbyn refused to step down. Owen Smith eventually secured the right to challenge him and was soundly rejected by the membership, who showed they remained loyal to their leader. Since then, the Parliamentary Labour Party in opposition to Jeremy Corbyn has been kept muzzled and kennelled.
In recent weeks, however, the political manoeuvring against Jeremy Corbyn has entered a new phase. Yet more frontbenchers resigned over the decision to vote in favour of a second reading of the Article 50 bill. Clive Lewis and Diane Abbott, both rated Core Group members in March 2016, have both signalled their distance from their leader’s stance on Brexit, Clive Lewis actually resigning from the shadow Cabinet in order to oppose a third reading. “Sources close to the leader” keep briefing that Jeremy Corbyn has privately agreed a departure date. No matter how many public denials are issued, a cadaverine odour is hitting the nostrils.
So it is possible that the end might be coming very suddenly. If so, we need to be prepared. Who might then take over?
It’s time to look again at the rules of engagement. At present, potential candidates must secure nominations from 15% of Labour’s MPs before being put forward to the membership. So the winner will either be nominated without an opponent by the Parliamentary party or will be the MP who most appeals to the membership from among those who secure meaningful support from their Parliamentary colleagues.
This first stage is a vital component in determining the identity of the next Labour leader. The difficulty that a Corbyn-approved candidate might have in meeting this test has been cited by some commentators as a reason why Jeremy Corbyn might still try to cling to power. Conversely, two or three right of centre figures might easily clear this hurdle but could then struggle to win over the much more leftish membership. If this is going to a contested election, the different wings of the Labour party are going to need to play this very carefully indeed.
The Parliamentary hurdle is particularly challenging for those from the left of the party. Jeremy Corbyn only scrambled onto the ballot paper with loaned (and now regretted) nominations to broaden the debate. If the leadership election takes place under the current rules, there is likely to be space for a maximum of one left-winger on the ballot paper. Even that one is going to need to reach out to those on the centre left. So if the successful candidate is to come from the left, he or she is either going to have the backing of the current leadership or move much further towards the centre.
This causes Clive Lewis in particular a fairly hefty problem if there’s a vacancy in the short term. He isn’t likely to get the support of the existing leadership in the event of a succession – that seems to be devolving onto Rebecca Long-Bailey if the press speculation is correct – but he is seen as being very much a left-winger. Where is he going to get his nominations from? Until he solves this problem, he is emphatically a false favourite. I’ve been laying him at odds below 5/1 on Betfair. I’m very comfortable with this position at present.
Who is likely to make the ballot? I expect the current leadership would manage to get its preferred successor on the ballot paper. Since that currently seems to be Ms Long-Bailey, I’d have thought the current odds on Betfair of her at roughly 11/1 and those on Clive Lewis should be almost exactly reversed (disclosure, I backed Rebecca Long-Bailey at odds of up to 350/1 last October).
Once the choice reaches the membership, I’m far from convinced that they will choose the most left-wing candidate just because they chose Jeremy Corbyn. Learning from experience, they are likely to choose the candidate who can articulate a vision that inspires them, who has been loyal (or obviously principled) and who can command respect among the broadest possible range of their fellow Parliamentarians. Sir Keir Starmer cannot be discounted but is a little bloodless. Tom Watson is another possibility, though he may struggle to overcome the distrust of many Corbynites, even if they themselves were only a few cars behind on the road to Damascus. Lisa Nandy and Dan Jarvis, for example, might also fit the bill. And, of course, Rebecca Long-Bailey might find her voice.
Because of the make-up of the Parliamentary Labour Party, those on the right have more space to identify their chosen candidates. Those on the left will need to decide whether they hang together or hang separately. As the day on which a new leader seems to come ever closer, the list of conceivable replacements is shortening. If you can’t work out how they get through the hoops, lay the possible candidates, don’t back them.