Fair minded observers will have given Jeremy Corbyn the win today at PMQs but the main Labour story is the future of shadow business secretary Clive Lewis, who must decide whether to obey the party whip or vote against the Article 50 Bill at third reading. The wider context is the reporting by Manchester Evening News journo Jennifer Williams that Corbyn is discussing ending his chaotic leadership of the Labour party.
There’s an irony that it’s Europe that should be the tipping point. In All Out War, Tim Shipman writes that the Labour leadership felt that their approach of lacklustre support for Remain would be a winner whatever the result of the referendum. But for thousands of Labour supporters, their party’s subsequent acceptance of the case for triggering article 50 has been the last straw: they have resigned from the party or said they will no longer support it while Corbyn holds office.
A couple of comments either way. First, it isn’t clear what effect Lewis’s decision (whatever it is) may have on the longevity of the Corbyn regime. You’d think that yet another shadow cabinet resignation would further weaken the Labour leader. But All Out War gives copious examples of times where David Cameron did various things to underscore his own position, all of which only made him weaker. The romantic idea of Corbyn as the outsider, which brought him victory in 2015 and 2016, remains in play among his supporters. See also: Trump. Besides, Seumas Milne is a student of the politics of East Germany. He knows that the Soviet Union were in 1953 considering dumping the DDR’s leader, Walter Ulbricht. The workers’ uprising in that year should really have been the last straw for Ulbricht, but Moscow concluded that removing him was too risky: he hung on for a further 18 years. Paradoxically the moment of greatest danger for Ulbricht cemented his position (though it’s worth remarking that I do not expect that Corbyn will lead the Labour party until 2035).
Second, three separate commentators have suggested that the Corbynistas’ favoured successor is Rebecca Long-Bailey. Kevin Schofield at Politics Home quotes one source thus:
They also want a female counter to Angela Rayner. They’re irritated with her for getting so much publicity about her background.
I don’t intend to comment on the various merits of Long-Bailey and Rayner, other than to say that a large portion of the population thinks that Jeremy Corbyn ‘refuses’ to sing the national anthem. A politician who is able to frame some of their own coverage, perhaps by emphasising their unprivileged back story and showing a compelling reason about why they are in politics for ordinary people, might actually be rather more skilled at communications than the current leadership team.