- Jeremy Corbyn: 313,209 (61.8%)
- Owen Smith: 193,229 (38.2%)
From the Guardian’s report:
Overall, there were 654,006 people eligible to take part in the election as either full members, registered supporters who had paid £25, or affiliates largely through the trade unions. Of this total, 506,438 cast a vote.
Despite an electoral system that seemed to have been skewed to favour Corbyn’s challenger, by denying a vote to anyone who joined either as a member or an affiliate since January, by raising the fee for being a registered supporter to £25, and by purging or suspending from membership thousands of members who had said something “wrong” on social media (here’s a post from Roz Kaveney on how this was managed: see also), Corbyn got clear majority for his leadership across the board: 59% of the Labour Party membership as of December 2015 voted for him, 70% of those who had paid £25 to become registered supporters, and 60% of those who had a vote as affiliated supporters mostly via trade unions.
So, the Labour Party MPs who persist in saying that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the leader they want, now have a few options.
The disgruntled Labour MPs can join the LibDems. Earlier in the week, Tim Farron extended a bland invitation to Labour MPs unhappy with Corbyn to do just that. If at least 110 of them take him up on that invitation – and 172 Labour MPs voted no-confidence in Corbyn – then the LibDems become the second-largest party in the Commons, and for the first time since 1895 the Conservatives would face a Liberal opposition. (I don’t think this is seriously likely.)
Or the disgruntled Labour MPs can refuse to serve in the Shadow Cabinet. This may seem like a more reasonable position than en masse joining the LibDems, but there is a consequent problem with that: Labour can cease to be the official Opposition. The role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is traditionally held by the second-largest party in the Commons: but that role carries with it the responsibility of having an Opposition spokesperson to provide a counter to the government’s position.
For the time being, while Parliament was in recess and Labour was struggling towards a close in its leadership election, John Bercow has let the oddity of dozens of unfilled Shadow Cabinet roles stand. But he’s made clear that it concerns him. And it is the Speaker’s job to make sure that there is an Opposition. If the majority of Labour MPs refuse to take on their Opposition responsibilities, then the constitutional role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition must go to the third-largest party in the Commons… the SNP.
Yes: the end-result of these 172 Labour MPs going on strike could be their having to sit on the backbenches and watch Angus Robertson duel Theresa May at PMQs, or Alex Salmond challenge Boris Johnson on foreign affairs, or Mhairi Black facing off against Damian Green.
No: I don’t think the Labour MPs who say they won’t serve under Corbyn’s leadership are really likely to sit back and watch that happen.
The second-to-last option: 172 Labour MPs and the 68,000 or so members who support them will quit the Labour Party and start their own separate party which could then become the official Opposition in the Commons – until the next general election, at least. (The Constitution Unit blog outlines some interesting aspects of such a split in the Commons and Select Committees.)
But it seems unlikely that the ex-Labour MPs could be allowed to take the Labour Party name, and doubtful that they would get any more than a proportionate share of the Labour Party money (and what a proportionate share is will be difficult, too, as the Constitution Blog outlines). What is really certain is that while this would satisfy the MPs who have spontaneous hissy-fits, those who really do pragmatically believe that only a return to the leadership style of Blair, Brown, and Miliband will win them the election in 2020, splitting the Labour Party would certainly lead to electoral disaster in 2020.
The last and most likely option: despite what they said before Smith lost, they will return to the Shadow Cabinet positions they resigned from in June, and await their next chance to instigate a leadership coup, meantime backbiting and complaining and kicking and publicly sulking that this isn’t the leader they wanted and it’s so unreasonable of the membership to prefer Corbyn.
[Update, Sunday 25th September: Labour MPs complaining that Corbyn has rejected their “peace plan” of having his Shadow Cabinet Ministers elected by the MPs who took part in the coup against him, suggests that these MPs may in fact be looking forward to having Labour’s status as official Opposition withdrawn, so long as they can blame this entirely on Jeremy Corbyn.
So unreasonable for Corbyn to suppose that just because he won the leadership with an increased mandate, the “real” leaders of the Labour PLP would want to allow this jumped-up backbencher to make any decisions.]
It is entirely plausible to me that the Labour MPs who wanted Corbyn gone by the end of June this year, will keep running leadership elections until eventually either Corbyn loses, or Labour loses massively at the general election in 2020.
For let’s look back at how this began.
In the morning of 24th June, we all woke up to the news that, in England and Wales, across a vast majority of constituencies, the majority of voters had voted for Brexit.
This is the biggest single political crisis that the UK has found itself in since World War II, and it left the Conservative Party in complete disarray: David Cameron resigning, half a dozen contenders for the Tory leadership (at least half of whom had been Brexiteer campaigners who now looked appalled to discover Leave had really won), the sudden likelihood of a breakup of the United Kingdom, the horrid chances of an end to peace in Northern Ireland.
Jeremy Corbyn, who had campaigned hard for Remain despite not being a europhile, said when asked the next morning: “Article 50 has to be invoked now”.
His enemies reported – and still consistently report – that Corbyn said that Article 50 must be invoked “immediately”, or “right away”, or “as soon as possible”. But that’s not what Corbyn actually said.
“The British people have made their decision. We must respect that result and Article 50 has to be invoked now so that we negotiate an exit from the European Union.”
That sentence about Article 50 can be interpreted two ways: one, which all of his enemies have chosen to believe, that he said now meaning immediately, right away, at once: or, which I think is more likely: Article 50 now has to be invoked as a consequence of the Leave majority.
I disagree with that, obviously, but I also note that it is hugely difficult for both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn (and neither of them were supporters of the Leave campaign) when the vast majority of the constituencies in England and Wales voted, by a clear majority, for Brexit. I don’t believe Theresa May wants to invoke Article 50 any more than I believe Corbyn does: both of them are sufficiently well-informed to understand that invoking Article 50 will mean constitutional, political and economic chaos for the UK.
But both May and Corbyn are party leaders reliant on democratically-elected support: it would take a Prime Minister with a brain of ice, tongue of gold, and spine of steel, to be able to say to the British public “What you voted for is impossible: attempting to get it for you will permanently damage our country: I will not do it” – and stand by that and not suffer for it at the next General Election. I think Cameron saw that too, which is why he quit that morning, because he is a gutless horror of a man.
I don’t want to go into the Brexit issues in depth in this blog post, but when I said up there that this is the biggest political crisis the UK has had since World War II, I wasn’t exaggerating.
And what did these Labour MPs do?
If you believe their own story, they were all spontaneously outraged by what Corbyn said. Spontaneously. on Saturday 25th June, Hilary Benn called Shadow Cabinet ministers to ask if they would join him in asking Corbyn to stand down and then if they would join him in resigning if Corbyn refused to quit. Spontaneously, this was leaked to the Guardian. Spontaneously, Hilary Benn then called Corbyn in the early hours of Sunday morning, 26th June, to ask him if he was going to resign. Corbyn fired him.
Spontaneously, one after the other, over the next 24 hours, virtually every Shadow Minister resigned: spontaneously choosing to do so at spontaneous hourly intervals.
And this, they would like us to believe, was their entirely spontaneous and unthinking response to the Brexit crisis. The first priority, with the Tories in such disarray, was to attack their own leader.
If that were true, it would certainly prove that they were none of them fit for the job of leading the party or holding senior Cabinet positions. If they did let their spontaneous emotional reactions and their unthinking hatred and contempt for Jeremy Corbyn, overrule their ability to think out what would be best for the UK, for the people of the UK, and for their party in Opposition and in government, then not one of them is fit to hold any leadership role. In a crisis, we don’t want people at the helm who’ll panic and run amok and ignore the icebergs ahead.
But there’s this: Angela Eagle was Shadow Secretary of State until she resigned (spontaneously) on Monday 27th June. We are to believe that she had no prior plan and no notion of a coup against Jeremy Corbyn: she just, spontaneously, decided to resign. She didn’t announce that she was challenging Corbyn for the leadership until Saturday 11th July. Her leadership campaign website was angela4labourleader.org
So, at least a fortnight before the EU referendum was even held, Angela Eagle’s team was already planning for her spontaneous resignation from the Shadow Cabinet to stand for Labour Party leader: and two days before Angela Eagle spontaneously resigned, the day of Hilary Benn’s spontaneous phone-calls and leaks to the Guardian: someone on Angela Eagle’s team knew on that day that Angela Eagle intended to run for leader of the Labour Party and any matching URLs which could be spoofed or mistaken, needed to be safely registered for Eagle’s campaign.
For some time, there had been rumours and anonymous leaks that the disgruntled Labour MPs were planning to unseat Corbyn with a leadership challenge. Rumours are rumours and anonymous leaks are gossip: but the WHOIS data for Angela Eagle’s campaign website is a solid fact.
Owen Smith’s team initially registered the URL owensmith2016.com for his campaign website on 11th July 2016, the same day as Angela Eagle officially announced she was standing, but then registered and went live with owen2016.com on 13th July, two days after Angela Eagle formally announced she was standing. Make of that what you will.
This was not a spontaneous uprising: it was a planned coup that went wrong because the plotters assumed that Jeremy Corbyn would follow an unwritten and untested “rule”, that if he lost a vote of no-confidence to his own MPs, he would resign. (The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party do have such a rule – if the leader loses a vote of no-confidence from their own MPs, they must step down – but the Labour Party doesn’t.)
Angela Eagle, I am fairly certain, knew that she couldn’t win if Corbyn were in the race, and this, not Owen Smith’s entrance on 13th July, is why she quit before she lost.
The thing is, though: while Nick Hopkins at Labour Hame is right when he says that the only thing for anti-Corbyn Labour MPs to do is “outshine Corbyn“, so far, the attempts to campaign against Corbyn have consisted overwhelmingly of telling people who support Jeremy Corbyn for leader why they are wrong.
As Iain McNicol, the general secretary of Labour’s NEC, pointed out:
“We cannot run campaigns telling people why they’re wrong and we’re right. We cannot be divided when our mission is to unite the country. Or if we do, we shouldn’t be surprised when voters punish us at the polls.”
And he’s right. The question is whether anti-Corbynites will pay attention to him.
Jeremy Corbyn has built the UK Labour Party into the largest socialist movement in Europe, a party with over half a million members.
That may not be enough to win an election in 2020. But we already know that leadership of the sort Ed Miliband provided, virtue-posturing to look good to Tory voters, lost Labour the election in 2015. We know that under Tony Blair’s leadership, the Labour Party steadily lost votes, voters, and constituencies, so that the huge majority Blair won in 1997, was by 2010 so low that even David Cameron and Nick Clegg could claim a win.
We know that in the 1980s, more voters voted for either the SDP, the Liberal Party, or Labour, than voted for the Conservatives: the Tories achieved their majorities then by splits in the opposition, not by enthusiasm for their policies.
If I had a Labour MP – which I don’t, because he lost his seat in 2015 to a party that was campaigning against the Tories – and if that MP had been one of the 172 who mistook Corbyn for the Opposition – I would write to him and say:
“I used to vote Labour – I voted for you at every General Election except the last one. Maybe I will again. But you guys? You’re working to lose my vote in 2020, just as you lost my vote in 2015. It’s not Corbyn who’s going to make Labour unelectable. It’s you.“