A commitment to honouring the Leave vote could achieve major gains for Labour
Image: Chris Beckett
The reasoning of the Labour MPs attempting to remove Jeremy Corbyn is that he is incapable of leading them effectively, and more pertinently unable to win a General Election and become Prime Minister.
However the very act of trying to remove him could have unexpected consequences for those MPs. Ironically, a plan to overthrow Corbyn triggered by a conviction of the impossibility of electoral success under him could end up increasing his chances of achieving that success.
Even the kindest image ever portrayed of Corbyn since his election as Labour leader is as a perpetual student figure, more comfortable with protest than power. A member of a metropolitan political elite, but more troublesome than that, the Islington elite, the most embedded in the establishment of them all.
Watching Corbyn endure the recent spectacle of the resignations of virtually the entire front bench, staggered one after the other and timed on the hour every hour to stretch out the agony over days has been cringe-inducing.
Along with a vote of no confidence by 172 of his own MPs and constant pressure on him to resign for over a week with no sense that it is about to stop, the overwhelming impression now is that far from being a member of some self-selecting group maintaining power within itself, the establishment really doesn’t like him very much at all.
To those excluded from the dinner-party machinations, those on the outside looking into politics, he’s been made to look like an outsider too.
Part of the story of the Brexit campaign and the rise of UKIP has been the impulse of voters to give the political establishment a bloody nose.
Lord Ashcroft’s poll on how the nation voted on Brexit pointed out that it wasn’t just the elderly who overwhelmingly voted to Leave; almost two thirds of those in social group C2DE — those struggling at the bottom with little opportunity to register their displeasure — did too.
Part of Nigel Farage’s appeal is encapsulated in his insistence that he isn’t a professional politician despite being an MEP for the past 17 years.
If Corbyn can survive as Labour leader and emphasise the perception of himself as someone who threatens the establishment rather than being a part of it perhaps that could neutralise some of UKIP’s appeal to the lost voters in Labour’s heartlands.
Ed Miliband’s so-called 35 per cent strategy played its part in his defeat in the 2015 General Election. This settled for a combination of Labour’s reliable 29 per cent core vote plus a few extra disillusioned Lib Dem ex-voters to deliver victory.
Labour had won in 2005 with a vote share in the low 30s but in 2015 the unforeseen loss of Labour voters in marginals wrecked the plan.
Miliband was criticized for being unable to reach out to swing voters in Tory marginals, and it’s exactly the same criticism that’s levelled now at Corbyn by his MPs. If he can find a policy which cuts across party boundaries, which garners support across the political spectrum, all that changes.
The Leave vote in the referendum could hand it to him. The leading Leave campaigners are departing front-line politics one after the other. None of those likely to win the Tory leadership seems keen to trigger the Article 50 process of leaving the EU.
Even if they do, the probable desire to maintain access to the single market would mean paying for that access and also maintaining the free movement of people. That would be a bitter pill to swallow for people who’d voted to leave, for the cessation of sending money to the EU and the desire to control immigration.
One of the first of the referendum results to come in was from Sunderland, a clear victory for Leave. The people of Sunderland were very aware that their local economy was heavily reliant on non-EU employers who’d based factories there to take advantage of the free movement of goods. Yet they voted out anyway. Worries about the economy were trumped by other things that mattered more.
Positioning as an anti-establishment change option with a commitment to honour the Brexit vote would give Labour the chance of major gains if the Tories did not, both in traditional Labour heartlands and in vital election marginals.
Without unlikely gains in Scotland too a majority might be unfeasible but a change of leader won’t change that either. To be the largest party in Westminster would be a huge improvement on the current situation.
The Labour Leave campaign highlighted the avoidance of TTIP, the EU’s assault on workers’ rights and pay, the ability to nationalise our industries, and the anti-democratic treatment of Greece and insistence on austerity as reasons to be out.
There is plenty of motivation the Left could find to like in it.
Mark Brophy is a writer and blogger who lives in Newcastle upon TyneLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.