Labour rebels are hoping Brexit will allow them change leader, but it will be difficult, writes Sebastian Payne. The plot to remove Jeremy Corbyn has kicked off. Ever since he became Labour leader last summer, there have been mutterings of a coup by moderate MPs, but nothing has come to fruition — until now. Following the Leave result in the EU referendum, Dame Margaret Hodge has publicly challenged Mr Corbyn by proposing a vote of no-confidence. This is likely to take place following Monday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party, but will it work?
Removing Mr Corbyn has been seen as nigh impossible by his internal opponents, due to the strength of his support base in the wider Labour party. But everything has been shaken up in the aftermath of the referendum. Anger is running high throughout Labour, even among the Corbynites — many of them backed Remain, and their leader put in an irresponsibly lacklustre performance during the campaign. As a result of all this confusion, the anti-Corbyn cabal believe they may have the opportunity finally to strike.
There are several hurdles to clear in removing the party leader. First, Mr Corbyn must lose the vote of no-confidence. This needs the support of more than 50 per cent of Labour MPs, but closer to 70 per cent would prove there is real momentum for change. The anti-Corbynites believe over half of Labour MPs are onboard with the plot, including more than half the shadow cabinet.
After that, a candidate is needed to stand against Mr Corbyn. This has been the sticking point in the past efforts to remove him, and the cabal do not appear to have one at this stage. Realistically, they have until Tuesday to find someone who has the guts to do it.
If this happens, there comes the ballot paper hurdle. A challenge needs the backing of 20 per cent of Labour MPs. If it gets that, there is then the question of whether Mr Corbyn himself will receive enough nominations to get on the ballot paper. He managed to squeak into the contest last time but might not be so lucky now — plenty of MPs who signed up to Team Corbyn rapidly repented.
If the incumbent leader does get on the paper, the plotters’ task is much harder as Mr Corbyn’s “huge mandate” in the wider Labour party could strengthen his position with another landslide victory. If he does not, however, legal squabbling ensues. The anti-Corbynites would expect the party leader’s team to take issue legally with the fact that he is not automatically enlisted in the election — there is disagreement over the official party rules.
I understand both sides have taken legal guidance over this, but there is no definitive answer yet on who is right. The pro- and anti-Corbyn camps hope that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, would become a natural arbiter and both sides believe he will back their case.
If the cabal manage to keep him off the ballot paper, the challenge might have a chance of success. But the major obstacle remains a suitable candidate. The names circulating in Westminster include Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, and Dan Jarvis, the former paratrooper turned Labour politician. Yvette Cooper is also worth watching — she has successfully rebuilt her profile on the backbenches after losing to Mr Corbyn in the last contest — as is Chuka Umunna, the ambitious MP for Streatham, who has flirted with running in the past.