Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed rumours that he will resign as “fake news”. But the Labour leader’s position looks increasingly weak.
Over 50 MPs rebelled yesterday when he told them to vote in favour of the Article 50 bill. His tweet last night that “real fight starts now” has been mocked mercilessly on social media. After failing to campaign vigorously during the referendum and then handing Theresa May a virtual blank cheque, the leader of the opposition was now promising to fight? Come off it.
Clive Lewis, one of Corbyn’s key allies and somebody seen as a potential future Labour leader, quit the shadow cabinet over the Article 50 vote. What’s more, many of the younger, liberal internationalists who joined the party in excitement when he became leader of the opposition are now disenchanted by his limp pro-Europeanism.
If only Corbyn would quit. Britain would then have an opposition better able to hold the government to account as it charges towards a hard, destructive Brexit.
Of course, Labour doesn’t have enough MPs on its own to stop the Tories in their tracks. And, even with a new leader, the party would be split. Although MPs in London and other big cities represent constituencies that voted to Remain in the EU, others represent constituencies that voted Leave and fear UKIP breathing down their necks.
That said, almost anybody but Corbyn would be a stronger leader of the opposition. At present, May has little to fear even from driving the economy over a cliff, as it’s hard to see the voters choosing Corbyn as the next prime minister.
If there was a different Labour leader, the Tories’ calculations might start to change. They would start to fear they could lose power. If May came back from her Brexit negotiations with a bad deal or no deal at all, Labour might be able to get enough support to tell her to go back to the negotiating table. That could provoke a political crisis, leading perhaps to her resignation or a snap election.
A new Labour leader might also embrace different ways of conducting politics – for example, by being willing to form electoral pacts with other opposition parties and backing proportional representation. Lewis has been a prominent supporter of both ideas. If these became official Labour policy, the Tories’ calculations would change again as they would be more likely to lose power even if they stayed the largest party.
Let’s hope the “fake news” over Corbyn’s departure eventually turns out to be the truth.