Lord Mandelson and other party grandees plot to overthrow Corbyn if he wins the leadership election
Something is rotten at the heart of the Labour Party. What started off as a fairly tedious leadership race (with a question along the lines of “Which of these Blairites do you least hate?”) has now snowballed into an existential threat for the party of opposition.
Individual party members have been soul-searching to remember the origins of their own political beliefs – either on the left or right of the spectrum – and the meteoric rise of serial leftie candidate Jeremy Corbyn has given the entire parliamentary party something to think about. He has gone from not having a chance at the job to the 2/1 favourite to win in under a month, and those with a vested interest in the Blair/Brown legacy are beginning to panic.
In the last week, there have been several attempts to cobble together a pre-emptive rebellion, as if Corbyn were to do the “impossible” and win the public vote he would be thrust on the parliamentary party whether they like it or not. The plots began with Tony Blair’s former press guru Peter Mandelson suggesting to the centrist candidates (Burnham, Cooper and Kendall) that if they all stood aside the vote would be called off. This was unacceptable to most, as it would require an interim period in which Corbyn would control the party. The starting gun had been fired, however, and this idea was soon developed.
The rumour is that Liz Kendall spoke with Yvette Cooper, suggesting that they simultaneously stand down so as to produce a 2-horse race, and avoid splitting the centrist vote. This could have worked in theory, but Cooper (buoyed by the day’s headlines) naively rejected it, believing that she may be heading for a late surge in support. Since then, the party has been lining up to take sides, with some suggesting that they could join his shadow cabinet and soften the potential blow of his more radical ideas, whilst others are advocating a “free French” rebellion, in which party members refuse jobs in his cabinet, refuse to recognise him as leader, and do not obey the party whips in commons votes.
Either of these could cause serious ruptures in the party, but the “free French” method carries far more risk – Labour could find themselves a disorientated, leaderless mess by the time the next election comes around, and be consigned to oblivion for a lifetime.
It is supremely important, after all the to-ing and fro-ing over the last few months, that Labour chooses a leader and sticks with them for the duration. The public would not forgive the party for calling another leadership race before the election, and if the only way to stay united is to dispense of grandees whom some see as stuck in the past, then it may be worth the pain to do so.