Jeremy Corbyn’s victory leaves rebels with few choices

The failed putsch by Labour MPs has merely strengthened leader’s control over the party

Jeremy Corbyn at the UK Labour Party leadership conference in Liverpool: he and his allies have promised to reach out to rebel MPs. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Image

Jeremy Corbyn at the UK Labour Party leadership conference in Liverpool: he and his allies have promised to reach out to rebel MPs. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Image

 

The Labour MPs who tried to depose Jeremy Corbyn as leader staged a show of defiance at the party conference in Liverpool, reassuring one another at a fringe meeting that their struggle to regain control of the party would continue.

However, Corbyn’s victory over Owen Smith has left his adversaries with few options to prevent the leader and his allies from tightening their grip on the party machinery.

The parliamentary party had hoped to avoid a leadership contest, first by pressuring Corbyn to step down after most of his shadow cabinet resigned and three-quarters of MPs voted no confidence in him. When a contest became inevitable, they tried to exclude Corbyn from the ballot, and when that failed, they moved to disqualify tens of thousands of his supporters from voting.

Amateurish campaign

These failed stratagems served to reinforce the suspicion among party members that the MPs viewed the contest as a trial of strength between the parliamentary party and the party membership.

That impression was amplified by the fact that Corbyn’s challenger, the almost unknown Smith, voiced few disagreements with the leader on policy. Smith’s central argument– that he would be a more competent leader – was undermined by his amateurish campaign and his tendency to put his foot in his mouth.

Corbyn and his allies have done their best to sound magnanimous in victory, promising to “wipe the slate clean” and reach out to rebel MPs. But the leader has left no doubt he interprets his victory as a mandate to put more power over policy-making into the hands of the membership. And although he has said he is opposed to the mandatory reselection of MPs, Corbyn stopped short of saying he would intervene to prevent the deselection of MPs who criticised his leadership.

The early move against Corbyn was driven by MPs who feared that each day he remained leader would see him extending his control over the party’s decision-making bodies. They hoped that, even if a challenge failed, it would weaken his leadership.

Opposite effect

The botched putsch has had the opposite effect, and rebel MPs are now left with unappetising choices. Some will return to the shadow cabinet they flounced out of a few weeks ago, others will sulk on the backbenches, and some will seek to raise their profiles by serving on select committees.

Some of Corbyn’s enemies are already looking towards leadership elections in the big unions, hoping to replace pro-Corbyn leaders with figures closer to their thinking.

More thoughtful rebels advocate a long game, arguing that instead of crouching in fear of the party’s expanded membership, they should seek to win them over.

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