Might Jeremy Corbyn want an election even if he lost?

by Hugo Dixon | 10.10.2019

The Labour leader says today he is “ready” to go to the polls – despite every opinion poll showing the party is way behind the Conservatives.

Could there be any method in the madness? For advocates of “disaster socialism”, maybe. The idea would be that Boris Johnson would win the election, crash the UK out of the EU without a deal and the economy would come tumbling down. In the wake of such a disaster, Labour might sweep to power in a second general election with a fat majority and would then be able to implement hard socialist policies.

But for most ordinary voters and members of the Labour Party, such a scenario would be a nightmare. People thrown out of jobs, years more austerity, and without even the guarantee of a socialist paradise at the end of it.

Not surprisingly, most Labour MPs and some members of the shadow Cabinet are desperately trying to persuade Corbyn to back a referendum before an election. They are even threatening to rebel if he tries to whip them into line. If so, it is possible that there won’t be an election. After all, two-thirds of all MPs are needed to back an early election.

If there really was such a massive rebellion, the Labour Party would split. But surely it would be better not to go there in the first place – unless, that is, the opinion polls shift dramatically in Labour’s favour in the next two weeks.

Although Johnson is clear favourite to win an election, he is admittedly not a shoe-in. He will have an extremely difficult choice to makeover what Brexit policy to put in his manifesto, as I argued in The Independent yesterday. If he commits himself to “no deal”, he will lose the support of moderate Conservative MPs and voters, probably to the Liberal Democrats. On the other hand, if he puts a fudged position in the manifesto, he will lose votes to Nigel Farage‘s Brexit Party.

However, even if Johnson fails, that does not mean Labour will win. The biggest gainers from any loss in Tory votes are likely to be either the Lib Dems or the Brexit Party, depending which way the Prime Minister jumps. By contrast, after a referendum, Labour might do better. After all, Corbyn would be able to concentrate on those issues he really cares about such as the NHS rather than trying to sell his convoluted Brexit policy – namely to negotiate a new deal with the EU and then put that to a referendum without, initially, telling the voters whether he would campaign to stay in or leave.

More broadly, it is much cleaner to decide what happens on Brexit in a referendum rather than muddling it up with the issue of who should run the country.

What’s more, a referendum is a much more promising ground for pro-Europeans to fight on than an election. In a People’s Vote, Johnson would need over half the votes 50%. In an election, our first past the post voting system means he could win with only a third.

This is crunch time. Johnson is required by law to ask the EU for extra time by October 19 if he hasn’t got a deal by then. Assuming the Prime Minister obeys the law – which is not guaranteed – Corbyn was planning to say he was “champing at the bit” for an election. At the last minute, he rewrote his speech to remove this phrase and refused to say when he’d go for an election. This is progress. His colleagues need to keep up the pressure. 

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This article was updated to take into account the fact that Jeremy Corbyn changed his speech at the last momentto remove the phrase “champing at the bit”.

Edited by James Earley

Categories: UK Politics

10 Responses to “Might Jeremy Corbyn want an election even if he lost?”

  • thank you for your informed analysis of these highly complex issues. gladdens an old (87) mans heart!!! every time.
    did you notice the interesting similarity between the actions of von Papen with hindenburgh last time round and reesmogg with the queen, socalled topdrawer people killing a parliament and once again applauded by those without much choice and who will once again, as you rightly point out, pay the price for getting rid of a monster

  • I’m not sure what the purpose of the article is, other than to sow anti-Corbyn sentiment. You should have stuck to your argument in support of a referendum and not sullied it by slurring Corbyn.

  • “It is much cleaner to decide what happens on Brexit in a referendum.” Have you learnt nothing from the egregious mistake of holding the first referendum? Another referendum is only likely to compound the problems created by the first; and certainly so if the side that you would back – No Brexit! – were to win. I suppose it is possible that should it endorse the result of the first we might finally be able to put the issue to bed, but that can hardly be what you want to achieve!

  • Referendum result = same as before = more discord/argument/blame/Parliamentary chaos. More “exit dates” ad infinitum.

    Referendum result = Remainers win = more discord/argument/blame/Parliamentary chaos. However, all this will happen WITHOUT the Damocles sword of “no-deal” hanging over everyone’s head so no panic but a chance to actually address the issues which make people want to leave in the first place.

    So either hold the referendum (for a 3rd time) and deal with the probable outcome of more years of frustration or cancel Article 50 and sort out the EU FROM WITHIN. There are other countries equally disillusioned who would probably back a UK attempt to “clean up” the EU, rewrite the Treaty of Rome, and in so doing short-circuit their troublesome right-wing opportunists (I.e, Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, in fact all of them.

  • John Morrison appears not to understand the necessity of having the “no deal” option on the table. It is simply an essential element of any bilateral negotiation where it forms the default position of both parties. It is just as true if you or I go into a shop with our eye on a particular item. Maybe we can negotiate a better price; If we can’t get the price we want, we can always say “No deal”. And it is quite clear that the EU itself has certainly maintained at every stage a no-deal option of its own. But the Remainer Parliament has effectively tied the Government’s hands. It can’t say no deal and consequently its whole negotiating stance has been totally compromised. That is why Johnson justifiably calls it the Surrender Act. It seems to me perfectly clear that but for this Act, there is every chance our EU interlocutors would, at the very least, be treating the latest set of proposals with much more respect. Now they know they don’t need to.

  • Perhaps Corbyn needs to consider his priorities: does he want a labour gvt, or to get into number10 asap? Also GE or ref first?
    GE first unlikely to give him (or anyone else) a working majority, so long as Brexit remains unresolved.
    ‘Normal’ GE issues would be ‘contaminated’ by Brexit views. Strong indications that remain or leave voters do not line up cleanly with Lab or Tory, but cut across most parties.
    If go for confirmatory referendum/ peoples vote first (my preference) then the only issue would be brexit – deal or no Brexit. Outcome would clear the way for new govt after GE to get on with everything else, or (if leave should win again) then it would at least be an informed choice this time.
    So I’d recommend to Corbyn that he supports a referendum first (asap) to clear the air and agendas, then if he wins the next GE (and/or BJ’s tories lose) he can straight away start on his main agenda. Seems to me his chances of staying in no 10 for more than a few weeks would be better this way round.
    Perhaps the same applies to Johnson – who could be heading for a very short tenure…
    Personally I have doubts about many of JC’s policies and his party. Ditto about BJ and Tories This post is primarily about process and tactics, not necessarily about support either way.

  • The idea that a socialist world could arise from the ashes of a Tory disaster reminds me of what the socialists and communists thought in Weimar Germany, that things would get so bad under the (minority) Nazis there would be an uprising by the people followed by a better world. Does not Corbyn see the parallels?

  • Tim, and others attempting to draw a parallel between a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit and a ‘No-Sale’ in a shop, are getting the issue backwards. It’s true that, in any set of negotiations, you should keep the option of not striking a deal – but taking that option returns you to the status quo before you decided to negotiate, it doesn’t default you into a specific change.
    Let’s take the analogy of buying a new car. We’ve voted that we want a new car, so off we go to the showrooms and try to find one that we can all agree is worth trading in what we’re currently driving. That’s not very likely, given that one of us wanted a sports car, one wanted an estate for the kids and their kit, one wanted something small with good mileage – and someone thought they’d get a fully-functioning Batmobile. So we say ‘No Deal’ and go away – and we do so in our unglamorous but functional existing car, which may not be perfect for anyone but is better overall than the alternatives.
    The Brexit version of No Deal insists that we first sign over our existing car, and if we can’t find a new one that we all like then we have to go home on the bus!

  • Alex Scott. The mistake that the Remain opposition makes – no doubt deliberately – is that Johnson is set upon “No Deal” as his desired end. This belies the fact that he actually voted for May’s deal, including the backstop, albeit at the third time of asking. As you acknowledge, “in any set of negotiations, you should keep the option of not striking a deal.” But it is because of the Benn Act that Johnson has been forced to go, in Nye Bevan’s phrase, “naked into the conference chamber.” No to No Deal is simply a cover to hide the anti-democratic indecency of those who, like Hugo and InFacts, would actually be satisfied by nothing other than No Brexit.