Corbyn faces a leadership challenge in the Labour Party to oust him. We all know that the main contender is Owen Smith, who has a different vision for leading the Labour Party into the 2020 General Election to Corbyn. But despite this crisis in Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, there is little reason for Corbyn to be worried. With history on his side, he knows that the Labour Party have never ousted their leader in a leadership coup in recent years compared to their Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts. From Corbyn’s perspective, he needs to keep calm and carry on leading.
Firstly, the current leadership rules enable Labour Party members to vote in leadership elections. As The Guardian reported last year, Corbyn won with 59.5% of first-preference votes. That is a significant mandate from the grassroots who are responsible for a political party’s success as they are the ones who help knock on doors and deliver leaflets. The New Statesman stated that during July this year, Labour Party membership surged by 100,000. Stephen Bush explained that this membership boost could have mixed effects for the Labour Party. Many of these new members originate from the pro-Corbyn group, Momentum, whilst others have declared themselves as loyal to the new Save Labour camp. Nonetheless, Guido Fawkes has reported that Corbyn is miles ahead of former leadership contender Angela Eagle and Smith in a Times/YouGov poll with 54% of Labour members suggesting that they prefer Corbyn to the other two candidates. Smith is favoured by 21% and of Labour members who participated in this poll. Eagle was the favourite among 15% of Labour members who participated in this poll. Of course, Eagle has today announced that she has dropped out of the leadership race, but this poll does not bode well for the remaining candidate, Smith, either.
Eagle’s announcement of her leadership bid to succeed Corbyn did not gather much media attention either. Her first speech to launch her leadership bid was overshadowed by Andrea Leadsom dropping out of the Conservative Party’s leadership race. Considering this was Eagle’s opportune moment to launch her leadership bid, there is no doubt the change of face at 10 Downing Street was far more entertaining for the press at that time. Corbyn should feel somewhat relaxed knowing one of his main opponents suffered such a humiliating launch failure and that she has dropped out of the race now, no doubt due to events like this. It will be interesting to see what happens to Smith’s fortunes now that Eagle has dropped out of the race, but I’m not holding my breath that he will succeed against Corbyn.
Also, who remembers the glory days of Ed Miliband when the Labour Party seemed just that bit more credible than they do now? Even Miliband was able to prevent a leadership coup against his rule despite embarrassing opinion poll ratings during the final months of 2014. Miliband told the BBC in November 2014 that the rumours of four backbenchers asking Miliband to resign due to abysmal opinion poll ratings were ‘nonsense.’ Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham emerged as favourites during this time to replace Miliband. But the plot obviously never thickened as Miliband went on to lose the 2015 General Election.
However, if we are to stretch our minds back even further to the events prior to the 2010 General Election, it was quite clear that all attempts to oust Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown also completely failed. In September 2006, MPs in the Labour Party loyal to Brown, like Balls and Miliband, were part of a cowardly leadership coup to oust Blair and replace him with Brown. Blair, of course, remained as leader until July 2007. In late 2008, Labour rebels committed the same crime and tried to topple the hapless Brown. During that time, one Scottish minister resigned, one junior party whip was sacked and the executive committee ruled out a leadership contest by not issuing ballots to members. Not even David Miliband was brave enough to challenge Brown during this time, who was undoubtedly Labour’s only hope of defeating Cameron’s resurgent Conservative Party then.
Remember in 1987 when Kinnock lost Labour the general election that year? Of course. Did Labour attempt a leadership coup against the man who already lost them one election? Yes, Corbyn was responsible for drawing up a potential leadership rival to Kinnock in 1988, yet Kinnock survived and led Labour to another humiliating defeat in 1992.
With history on his side and a Labour Party membership still overwhelmingly loyal to him, Corbyn has nothing to fear from this leadership bid. It is clear that recent Labour leaders were responsible for planning coups against other Labour leaders in the past, which means Labour has a longer history of electing leaders who once plotted in leadership coups against previous leaders than successful leadership coups. 2016 has become an unpredictable year in British politics, but I think the one thing we can all safely predict is that Corbyn will survive this leadership bid.