There’s noisy chat that Jeremy Corbyn is 20 points ahead of his Labour-leadership rivals on first-preference votes. His rivals seem to agree; they’ve turned their main efforts to competing amongst themselves for second and third preference ‘stop-Corbyn’ votes. But could any of them really close such a huge gap?
Let’s take this Daily Mirror report as an example of the figures most people – including the respective campaigns – find credible. Corbyn on 42%; Cooper and Burnham with perhaps half of that each; then Kendall on around 14%. Burnham’s been working harder on the left than Cooper, so he’ll get less of Blairite Kendall’s second-preference votes. And for the same reason, he’s losing ground to Cooper as Corbyn-sympathetic supporters realise Corbyn might really win and move across. So it looks like Cooper will beat Burnham. However, there are still plenty Corbyn-fanciers who will stay loyal to Burnham until/unless he goes out. And if Burnham goes out, they’ll get behind Corbyn. Even if Cooper picks up almost all of Kendall’s votes by the time Burnham’s votes are transferred, it still leaves her needing twice as many of Burnham’s original votes as Corbyn does. It doesn’t look like she can do it. Ironically, if Burnham were to come second, armed with the Corbyn-fanciers who’d stayed loyal to Burnham, he probably could win.
A minority element of Kendall’s votes will go to Corbyn, though. Weird? Not really. This is the ‘cleansing-by-fire’ argument put by Dan Hodges – that Burnham or Cooper, having been murdered by Corbyn in the first round and in any case not remotely trustable as Blairites, would have to keep Labour way too far left and would be crushed by the Tories again in 2020. Corbyn, these folk will hope, might self-destruct, allowing a leader from amongst the grown-ups of the new intake (i.e. Keir Starmer) to come in well before 2020. It seems to me that these votes might well end up being pivotal.
But what of Scotland? Plenty of Scottish Labour folk are saying Corbyn would help them defeat the SNP on the left. They couldn’t be more wrong. First, the far-left in Scotland has already irrevocably committed itself to independence. That’s just the way it is. Maybe try again after the SNP have to set tax-rates, or after independence altogether, but not before. Meanwhile, in common with all members of the London left, Corbyn likes the SNP and believes it’s doing what Labour should be – he likely feels independence (or not) is up to the Scots and not Londoners. Think of his long-term position on Northern Ireland. And, more to the point, Scottish Labour would have nothing more to offer him once he’d been elevated to the leadership; while the super-friendly (for now) SNP would be offering 56 votes – thank you very much.
If I were Corbyn and has just won an entirely democratic election fair and square, in the immediate aftermath I’d bind everyone into a radical-sounding but secretly-fairly-sensible programme of opposition to the Tory Party through a symbolic act of genuinely historical proportions. I hate to be a bore about this, because I said it the other day, but I’d refuse to appoint new peers and set a date – Summer 2016 – when a new upper-house election system could easily be in place and Labour would withdraw altogether from the House of Lords. With that crucial SNP support (see above, and who already boycott the Lords), it’d be interesting to see how many Labour MPs would be prepared to rebel against ‘New Order Labour’ and in favour of allowing people to buy their way into our legislature. The opposition Labour and SNP parties would kill off the House of Lords and there’d be nothing the Tory government could do about it. An astonishing result for an opposition partnership.
And Scottish Labour? Well, ironically they’d be stymied by their own ‘autonomy’. Corbyn would stay on good terms with the SNP – which would mean the latter getting credit for all manner of things in Scotland – and the UK Labour Party would contribute financially far less to a Scottish ‘party’ which insisted it didn’t need to look to England when making any of its decisions, while contributing 1/56th of the votes available from the SNP.