Jeremy Corbyn is going to be on the Labour leadership election ballot. The National Executive Committee voted 18-14 to allow him automatically onto the ballot without the need for nominations from the Parliamentary Labour Party and the European Parliamentary Labour Party. This puts Corbyn in a strong position to win the leadership race and reaffirm his mandate as Labour leader.
I realise Corbyn is likely to win. I’ve said endlessly that Corbyn getting straight onto the ballot means he’ll win and the Labour party will die as a serious political force. But I think it might just be possible to beat him.
Both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith have announced their bids for the leadership, presumably Eagle and Smith will agree that whichever one seems to be doing worse will drop out of the race and throw their full suport behind the other. Regardless of who ends up being the challenger to Corbyn, the strategy required to win remains the same in my mind.
The key step on the path to beating Corbyn is don’t make it Angela Eagle/Owen Smith vs Jeremy Corbyn. Do not, under any circumstances, make it a battle of personalities. If you make it Jeremy vs Challenger then you will lose, he will win and Labour will be doomed. The Cult of Jez will prevail if you try to defeat it.
Instead, make the contest Eagle/Smith’s full alternative front bench team vs Jeremy’s floundering shadow cabinet. With 172 MPs explicitly saying they don’t have confidence in Jeremy’s leadership you have an invaluable weapon. Use it.
Here’s a step by step guide:
- Appoint an alternative shadow front bench team from across the party using the 172 MPs who declared no confidence in Corbyn. Use people from all strands of the party and make it clear this is a unity shadow cabinet.
- Make sure it’s a full team, shadow junior ministers and all. Literally an entire government in waiting needs to be prepared and don’t announce it until you’ve got every post filled.
- Do a photo-op, a really good one. All stand on a stage and look ready to govern the country. Plaster that image everywhere, show it to people at every oppertunity and talk about your alternative shadow front bench all the time.
- Contrast it with how Jeremy has a threadbare front bench team with people doing two shadow cabinet jobs. Corbyn cannot hold the government to account with his current shadow cabinet.
- Make the point that Labour is a parliamentary party and not a revolutionary party of protest. Make that point endlessly. Corbyn has made the membership believe Parliament doesn’t matter, remind them that it matters above all else.
- Most importantly, make it clear how you’re an alternative team not just an alternative leader. Jeremy Corbyn can’t be the leader alone, needs a large team behind him in Parliament and he just doesn’t have that.
This is, in my view the only way to defeat Corbyn and save Labour. There are a lot of minds that need changing in this leadership election. A lot of Corbyn loyalists that need winning over. With all due respect to Angela Eagle and Owen Smith, you’ll never develop the cult following that Jeremy Corbyn has. The membership won’t love you in the way they love him.
So be pragmatic. Come across as the sensible, capable majority of the parliamentary party that can construct a genuine government in waiting. That’s what the Opposition in the House of Commons should be. It will never be that under Jeremy Corbyn, and if you can get that message out there clearly and firmly to the membership then you might, might, win.