Neil Kinnock and John Prescott popped up yesterday to point out the the Labour Party rule book says leadership candidates need to be nominated by 51 MPs to get on the ballot paper. Until now, the counter argument put by the Corbyn camp is that those who framed the rules didn’t imagine the present circumstances, and if they had they would have made it clear that the present leader can be on the ballot paper by right.
I think the lawyers are telling the Labour Party that the Kinnock/Prescott line is correct. In law this kind of case is commonsense with bells on. The rules appear clear – all ballot sheet candidates must have 51 MPs nominate them. It’s quite a hurdle to prove in court that the framers (very recently) meant to exclude the sitting leader from the 51 MP requirement. It’s perfectly reasonable to require the same of the sitting leader which is required of everyone else, so proving that such an interpretation is perverse would be virtually impossible.
There are other signs that the game is up, too. First, Jeremy has been getting manhandled by his staff in a way which makes him look like a rookie candidate, or a leader who isn’t in control of his destiny. It’s a terrible look, and I think conveys the truth that things are getting desperate for the Corbyn camp. Second, the Unite leader has proposed some kind of compromise – that’s a surefire sign that he thinks the Corbyn game is up and is trying to get what he can from the last few days of the Corbyn reign.
But if all this is true, then why haven’t the Labour ‘rebels’ moved? Well, the key issue is who splits from whom. The Labour Party general secretary has to ensure that the party rules are properly applied so that it’s clear who owns the brand and organisational paraphernalia. If there’s a split, even the very large number of Labour ‘rebels’ would find it hard to make a new brand successful. So they need to ensure that it’s the Corbynites who split. This is what will happen when Corbyn (or an ally) fails to get onto the ballot paper. Sure, this will cause a big loss of membership from the party – but the rebels think Corbynite politics are hopeless electorally, so if all the leavers (entryists?) join a new party of the left – funded by the Unite leadership? – then it won’t amount to much more than maybe a couple of seats at the next election. Meanwhile, the ‘rebels’ will have their party back.
In addition, factor in the Chilcott report. Corbyn will make attacking Blair and the Iraq War his last stand. And Owen Smith supporters will spread that mess all over Angela Eagle, who voted for the war. Owen was a cabinet member’s special advisor at the time, of course, but he’s using his non-MP status then to play the anti-war card. Then there are MPs who think that if Owen Smith with his blatant playing to the left-wing gallery is the best they can do then a challenge might produce little improvement upon Corbyn.
There’s an election coming, though (ignore Tory candidate’s protestations to the contrary), so there’ll be blood very soon.