After the mass resignations from the Shadow Cabinet, the stand-off, the negotiations, the variously informed leaking of information and the unedifying spectacle for the voting public, there has been a declaration from Wallasey MP Angela Eagle that she will challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. Some on the left are scornful at Ms Eagle; others wonder what she hopes to achieve. Here is an outsider’s take on it all.
The breaking-off of talks by deputy leader Tom Watson is key. Watson was in discussion with Len McCluskey, head man at Unite The Union, last week until those talks were suddenly called off. My interpretation is that Watson felt he no longer needed to continue the discussions. That suggests the real reason Ms Eagle is standing is to test the hypothesis that Corbyn will have to secure nominations to get on the ballot.
Neil Kinnock’s intervention bears close examination. Kinnock stressed, both during an interview on The Andy Marr Show (tm) and at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), that the leader must enjoy the confidence of the party’s MPs. Most of those MPs have expressed a lack of confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. This confirms that the approach of those opposed to Corbyn is to force him to secure nominations from MPs.
The party’s rules on leadership challenges have not been drafted well. I defer at this point to the analysis of David Allen Green, who has examined the rules, and concluded “applying rule of fairness, and looking at clause [in rulebook] as whole, I can't see anything which means incumbent given advantage re nominees … There is room for dispute, views will differ. But IMO, more likely than not that a court would hold Corbyn needs same nominations [as other nominees][my emphasis]”.
He goes on to say “In essence: Corbyn would need to convince a court that Rule Book gives incumbent unfair advantage, when principle in Rule Book is fairness … The courts will expect all candidates to be treated equally; will be uphill battle for Corbyn to convince court differently … Delicious irony that Corbyn will be going to court, in effect, to assert a private law privilege, in breach of principle of equality”.
Angela Eagle would not be the only challenger. Once, as seems likely, it is decreed that Corbyn must secure nominations from MPs and MEPs, then other names will be put forward. Owen Smith is one such. But here a problem enters: many new members have joined Labour recently out of support for the current leadership.
The ultimate challenge is to head off a membership revolt. Labour now has a total membership of well over half a million people. The prize for any new leader is retaining and then mobilising them to campaign for the party. The only way to avoid a mass walk-out of members would be for Corbyn to give a leadership challenger his blessing.
Corbyn would probably not endorse any of the resigners. That narrows down considerably the number of credible leadership candidates who would have a chance of holding both the Parliamentary party and the membership together. My list of those candidates has only one name on it. But there is, of course, an alternative.
That is a split in the party. And we all know what happened last time there was one.