Losses on Thursday should kill Corbyn's leadership. But they won’t.

Next week’s by-elections in Copeland and Stoke should serve as the wake-up call the Labour Leader needs to realise its time to go. Yet, that feeling has been dislodged by feelings of hopelessness among Labour MPs.

By Sam W. Shenton | 19th February 2017

This coming Thursday, the Labour Leader faces one of his biggest challenges so far in his tenure. The Labour Party is polling on average at 27%, their lowest polling since Gordon Brown was Prime Minister in 2009 and their lowest polling point while in opposition since 1983. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are polling as high as 42% in some surveys, and the threat of UKIP refuses to subside even after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last June – making the waters incredibly difficult for HM’s Opposition. Instead of smooth sailing, Labour is faced with defending two supposedly safe seats on Thursday 23rd February, with the seats of Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central up for grabs.

The fact that both might fall to the aforementioned parties, the Conservatives and UKIP, should tell you everything you need to know. Labour could face one of the biggest upsets in its electoral history: losing a seat it has held continually since 1935 (Copeland) to the Tories and allowing UKIP to prove that it is still relevant, and get their leader into parliament for the first time in its history, proving that it is a direct electoral challenge to the traditional Labour voting heartlands of the North. But Labour’s leader isn’t in the strong position you would expect of a party of opposition half way through a parliamentary term– indeed, Jeremy Corbyn was out just this week to defend his leadership against Tony Blair’s criticism of a Labour Party that had no chance of forming a government or standing up to the current government over “Brexit at any cost.”

Of course, Tony Blair reminding voters of Labour’s division over Brexit in strong Leave voting areas against opposition that has committed to carry out Brexit isn’t the best thing Corbyn and Labour could be dealing with, but that is at the very bottom of Labour’s worries, even if the conundrums of Brexit are what are doing the most damage to Corbyn’s party. What should be at the forefront of Labour’s mind is: what to do if Labour loses one, or in a worst case scenario, both of the seats it is defending on Thursday? The loss would be the first time Corbyn has faced a full on defeat in his leadership, having held all previous seats in parliamentary by-elections. It would mark the beginning of a terminal decline, following on from a polling freefall that Labour has experienced since last April. In some ways, it could finally mark the end of the Corbyn experiment so many wanted to see end last June.

And yet, this prospect of a double loss isn’t being spoken as a huge blow to Jeremy Corbyn himself. Despite the backlash you would expect from Labour MPs with the looming prospect of up to 60 of them losing their seats at the next election, it is doubtful as to whether this would lead to a leadership challenge. While rumours have said that Corbyn has already selected a departure date, it is unlikely to be before leadership rules can change to secure a far-left successor is automatically on the ballot paper. And while MPs are still privately furious, there is little to no appetite for a second leadership challenge following Owen Smith’s embarrassing defeat, 62% – 38%, last September. In many ways, the Labour Party itself has lost its drive, and settled for a leader it quietly sees as a disaster in waiting.

No Leader should be able to survive what may likely come on Thursday. A loss in both Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent should destroy any, normal, Labour leader. But the demoralisation of Labour MPs has meant. Corbyn will likely survive unchallenged, unscathed and live to fight at least until the Labour NEC and Conference approve leadership rule changes. The further demoralisation of Labour MPs that these two losses could herald also highlight the status of the Labour Party as being a bush flowing in the wind, in a world defined by the Conservatives and Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, instead of being a driving force as it was under Tony Blair and – at times, such as with he energy price policy – under Ed Miliband.

Instead, these two losses will leave Labour in limbo as Theresa May heads to Brussels; the political dynamic of a Prime Minister and Stateswoman striving for the best possible, diplomatic Brexit deal for the U.K. against an opposition political party with a hapless leader who doesn’t want to be there, isn’t wanted by his MPs, and leads a party with lower moral than ever before. These possible losses should kill Jeremy Corbyn, but they won’t. And Corbyn’s prolonged leadership of the Labour Party will only further its free-fall into irrelevancy.

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