Is Corbyn’s mandate as robust as he thinks it is?

A leadership election may be the only way to break the deadlock, but its outcome is far from clear

Image: John McDonnell

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way to break the Labour Party deadlock will be to put the decision to the members in a leadership election.

Corbyn has been hit by nearly 50 resignations in the last two days and today faces a no confidence ballot, in which up to 70 per cent of his colleagues are expected to vote against him.

Cynics would say that Corbyn’s intransigence is simply a ploy to save his own skin, either by forcing the PLP to back down rather than engaging in another bruising and possibly humiliating leadership contest or, if they do insist on triggering an election, by actually humiliating them with another huge victory.

His supporters would argue that the leader has never enjoyed the support of his colleagues, that the PLP no longer effectively represents the will of the party membership and that Corbyn’s concern is actually not for himself, but for the members who deserve to have their views represented.

According to the cynical view, Corbyn is extremely confident that he still has the support of members and will use it to shout down his colleagues.

According to the more idealistic view, Corbyn believes he has the support of members but, even if he doesn’t, is willing to risk his leadership to ensure the decision is democratically made.

As for his colleagues, many report that in recent days the mood of the party has shifted and that ordinary members, as well as cabinet members, have lost confidence in Corbyn because he did not represent their interests and values on the EU.

For months, Europe has been a point of difference between Corbyn and the Corbynistas, who are more enthusiastic about the EU than he is.

Senior members of the Remain campaign suggest that his grudging support for EU membership was primarily driven by a need to align his views with those of his young supporters.

Indeed, a poll of Labour Party members conducted in February showed that 82 per cent of those who voted for Corbyn in the last leadership election also supported remaining in the EU.

Labour’s future now depends on those people. Some of them had probably lost confidence in Corbyn even before the referendum.

For another segment, the shock of Brexit will have drastically shifted their view of Labour politics and of Corbyn.

Both these groups will be ready to flip, provided that a convincing alternative leader is put forward.

And then there is a segment of Labour Party members (many also Momentum members) who cannot be swayed, who will vote for Corbyn in any circumstance.

John McDonnell claims that 10,000 of these people crowded into Parliament Square last night, proving that Corbyn is ‘going nowhere’.

But 10,000 (even if that many actually attended) is a small fraction of Labour’s membership of nearly 400,000.

Last summer Corbyn was given an overwhelming democratic mandate, and perhaps he is right to respect that mandate until it becomes absolutely clear that it no longer exists.

But that day could come sooner than he expects.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward.

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