There really is no easy way out. However much the majority of UK Labour MPs long for it, there is no quick solution to rid themselves of Jeremy Corbyn. Since 35 foolish parliamentarians nominated him for the party’s leadership last summer, the plots and schemes to force out the incumbent Labour leader have failed. He is on course to win the current leadership contest and if he does, his control over the party will increase and his opponents will have to rethink their approach.
Moderate forces in the party are already contemplating what to do next. One strategy is to try their hand at entryism with the Co-operative party — the Labour-affiliated organisation that grew out of the co-operative movement. It is modelled on the Socialist Campaign Group, a parliamentary grouping of hard-left MPs who back Mr Corbyn’s leadership, and frustrated MPs are contemplating using the Co-operative party as a weapon against the Labour leadership.
The anti-Corbynistas are reportedly planning to sign up 100 MPs to become “double-hatted” Labour/Co-op parliamentarians, build up their own leadership team (a shadow shadow cabinet) and vote-whipping operation. The appeal of this plan is that using the Co-operative movement to set up a separate power base would allow MPs to remain within the Labour party without acquiescing to the Corbyn cause.
This plan is, of course, too good to be true. There are already 25 Co-op-affiliated Labour MPs in parliament, elected to champion the mutual values of the movement. And they are unwilling to hand over their group for other purposes. “It is complete bollocks, we are trying to work out where it has come from,” says one senior Co-operative Labour MP. “We are going to stop entryism of any colour. We are going to continue to do our thing for the Co-op movement in parliament and we will not allow any MPs to join our group to use it against the Labour leadership.”
Then there is also the issue of what the Co-operative group exists for. Its principles of mutualism and fairer capitalism are agreeable to many Labour MPs but the current parliamentary group is a mixed bunch. John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness in north-west England, for example, is one of Mr Corbyn’s harshest critics, while Kate Osamor, MP for Edmonton in London, serves as the opposition leader’s international development spokesperson. Where the Corbynite wing of the party wants to nationalise the British railways, the Co-op group’s policy is to mutualise them.
And even if the Co-op MPs were willing to hand over their organisation to the Labour rebels, getting the new grouping together would require a level of competence that has eluded the dissidents’ past manoeuvres. If Mr Corbyn is unable to fill all of the vacancies on his front bench this autumn, the Scottish National party, with 54 MPs, is poised to lay claim to be the official opposition. A Co-op rebel alliance would need another 30 MPs to block the SNP and become the second-largest party in the House of Commons — as well breaking its 89-year-old electoral pact with the Labour party.
Chatter of a split ramps up with each failed effort to remove Mr Corbyn. In private, MPs admit it is a growing possibility but still an unlikely one. Labour’s representatives are dedicated to their party with a passion that is sometimes baffling to outsiders. Rebels cite the strength of the 172 MPs who voted against Mr Corbyn in the recent confidence ballot. But this number would dwindle to low double digits when the moment of betrayal arrived — the idea of walking away is as foreign to Labour MPs as crossing the floor to join the Conservatives.
The plotting will continue. Another idea is to try to reintroduce elections to the shadow cabinet, which might force Mr Corbyn to take a direction more in line with the parliamentary party. This rule change, however, would be up to the Labour national executive committee, the party’s ruling body, or agitated for at its conference in September. There is no clear procedure for bringing back these elections, plus there is a slight pro-Corbyn majority on the committee and therefore little appetite for backing a proposal that would empower MPs against him.
Reluctantly and depressingly, Labour MPs are concluding that the only way Mr Corbyn will go is by his own volition. Given that he spent 32 years on the backbenches as a perennial rebel, he is unlikely to give in to internal or external pressure — or even a general election defeat. MPs may end up watching from the sidelines as their party descends into incompetence and hard-left posturing. Each man kills the thing he loves, Oscar Wilde wrote, and Mr Corbyn is doing just that to the Labour party.
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