Those Labour supporters who have stuck with Jeremy Corbyn through all the twists and turns of his leadership have woken to see unwelcome news: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the party’s most senior elected member, has declared in an article for the Observer that he will back Owen Smith in the upcoming leadership contest. Khan has also urged all Labour members to ditch Corbyn, whom he considers unelectable.
The timing of Khan’s intervention is not an accident: ballot papers are being sent out to party members this week. And those who have rubbished calls to drop Corbyn from the likes of Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband by sneeringly dismissing them as “losers” cannot do so with the London Mayor, who won election in the teeth of a vicious Tory smear campaign and a mainly hostile press. Sadiq Khan is a winner.
So what would the reaction be? Would Labour members take on board Mike Smithson’s observations? The pollster observed “Last September 251,417 people voted for Corbyn as LAB leader … In May 1,310,143 voted for Khan as London Mayor” and also looked at the London election numbers, concluding “LAB's Mayoral vote went up in May while Assembly vote down. Sadiq’s victory was his not Corbyn’s”.
Would all those Corbyn supporters take that on board, that Khan had a larger mandate, and from the wider electorate? Would they agree that it was his victory, and the party’s, rather than any conscious endorsement of Jezza? Well, no they wouldn’t: the instant response has been to claim that Corbyn was responsible for Khan’s victory, partly because of all those Labour members tramping the streets for him.
But that assumes Labour members are some kind of Corbyn Praetorian Guard, which they most certainly are not. They may have equally been enthused by Khan’s campaign, or a desire to push back against the barrage of Tory smears. The uncomfortable fact for Corbyn backers is that Sadiq Khan actively distanced himself from the leadership.
Some outside the Labour Party have tried to push the line that Khan nominated Corbyn for the Labour leadership, and that this means he had supported him. But Khan was quite clear at the time that his purpose in nominating Corbyn was to broaden the range of candidates. He did not think that Jezza could win a General Election as leader, and he would not be voting for him. Today’s intervention is therefore significant.
What it does not mean is that Owen Smith has become a more credible or convincing candidate as a result - and therein lies Corbyn’s likely salvation. But he now knows that he cannot count on the support of at least one big city Mayor in the future - and if Khan makes a decent fist of the London Mayoralty, he’ll run again, and win again.
I would ask all those Corbyn supporters today to do two things: One, remember that Sadiq Khan is your party’s biggest winner for over a decade, and Two, listen to him and don’t rush to dole out the dismissiveness and abuse. Give him a hearing. That is all.