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Botched Labour rebels shoot themselves in their collective foot as Corbyn clings on.

In the name of God, go. David Cameron tried to play Oliver Cromwell last week in the Labour civil war. It was an extraordinary moment: a prime minister who has already been forced out telling the leader of the opposition to join him. This was a political suicide pact that would leave the UK without a government or an opposition during the greatest national emergency since the Second World War.

Mr Cameron claimed to put country before party in calling on a beleaguered Jeremy Corbyn to resign. But he must surely realise that a Tory prime minister telling the leader of the Labour party to go is the surest way of ensuring that he stays where he is. This is one vote of no confidence the rebellious Blairite faction could have done without.

Mind you, “faction” hardly describes the scale of the revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The 172 MPs, or 80 per cent, who signed the motion of no confidence in their own leader include many on the centre-left of the party. Yesterday, Pat Glass, shadow education secretary, joined the mass ranks of cabinet resigners only three days after she was appointed by Corbyn. So many have refused to serve that the Labour leader doesn’t have enough loyalists to staff his shadow cabinet. They’ll have to job share.

But the more Labour MPs call on Mr Corbyn to leave, the more determined he appears to be to remain. The man may have the charisma of speak your weight machine  but he has the hide of a rhinoceros. Nothing seems to get through to him. He manages to appear calm and collected at the Dispatch Box even though he knows that the vast majority of Labour MPs loathe the sight of him there.

Actually, Prime Minister’s Questions was one of Mr Corbyn’s better outings. Unruffled and fluent, he asked sensible questions about the economic impact of Brexit that forced Mr Cameron to reveal that he doesn’t have any answers: “Not my problem … nothing to do with me … ask the next guy”. The Prime Minister has washed his hands of this Brexit vote so many times that his fingers must be wearing thin. Indeed, he has almost become his own opposition, criticising the folly of the Government’s course of action even though he is supposed to be in charge of it.

You got the feeling that politics itself was crumbling to dust. Nothing works. No one is in charge. There’s no plan B, or plan A. Government and opposition have turned into losers in a demolition derby. The Conservatives may be about to elect a Remain supporter, Theresa May, as the leader they want to conduct the Brexit negotiations; either her or the thinking man’s Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, who seems to believe that the Brexit vote was just a jolly jape and we can carry on in Europe as if nothing had happened.

But at least the Tories have a vacancy for leader; the opposition can’t even manage that. Labour has an immovable object resisting the unstoppable force of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Mr Corbyn rightly says he was elected less than a year ago with an overwhelming mandate: 60 per cent of Labour members and supporters. Labour MPs reply that they represent the millions of voters who elected them in last year’s general election. This is a collision of mandates which can only end in mutually assured destruction.

This weeks’ carefully orchestrated coup was supposed to demonstrate to their leader that his situation is untenable and force him to do “the decent thing”. Every Labour MP who is interviewed, often shedding a tear, insists that he is a “very decent man” before going on to say he is a useless leader who couldn’t run a tombola. They willed his departure but unfortunately they didn’t think through the consequences of him staying put.

Mr Corbyn is clearly unelectable. His MPs have made him so by expressing their lack of confidence in him. What happens when the incoming Tory leader calls a snap election? This could, according to whispers in Westminster, be as early as October. What would all those sitting Labour MPs tell their constituents? Vote for us even though we’ve got such a hopeless leader we can’t vote for him ourselves? They might as well give up now.

The Corbynistas are talking about mandatory reselection of anti-Corbyn MPs to clear out the Blairites. But even if that were politically possible, there’s no way of getting hundreds of new candidates selected in time. Anyway, the deselected Labour MPs might well decide to stand as independents against the official Corbyn candidate.

One obvious solution might be for Labour to split into two parties. Labour has always been a broad church so why not a Disruption, like the Church of Scotland in the 19th Century. Dianne Abbott, the pro-Corbyn shadow health secretary, has openly called upon the Blairites to set up their own party, like the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981.

But the “moderates”, as the rebellious Labour MPs are laughingly still called by some commentators, know that splitters usually come off worse. Who remembers the SDP today? Without the support of the party in the country a formal breakaway Labour party would likely founder.

But what if they did a reverse breakaway and the MPs tried to force the Corbynites out of the shadow cabinet? The 172 Labour MPs could declare themselves the real opposition in parliament and take over as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. In our system, the Leader of the Opposition is only there because he or she is elected by MPs. The votes of Labour party members in the country are irrelevant.

The PLP could just declare that it has elected Angela Eagle or Tom Watson as party leader in Westminster. You could then have not one but two Labour leaders attempting to ask questions of the Prime Minister, both elbowing each other aside at the Dispatch Box, because you can be certain that Jeremy Corbyn would not go quietly. I’m almost beginning to believe that this could happen; or that the SNP, as the largest party that is still united, could end up as the official Opposition while Labour stages fist fights in New Palace Yard..

Had there been an Labour alternative leader waiting in the wings, the rebels might have had a greater chance of success. But this was a coup without a general. If former business spokeswoman, Angela Eagle, was the best shot, they’d be as well sticking with what they’ve got. She is hardly going to unite Labour. Her constituency party has backed Mr Corbyn. In the forthcoming leadership election, tens of thousands of new Labour members and supporters who regard her as a traitor will swell the Corbyn vote.

It would be like putting a pro-European in charge of the Tory party which, come to think of it, is what the Tories seem to be planning. Theresa May supported Remain. However, it would be fascinating to see both Labour and the Tories being led at Westminster, as in Scotland, by women. They couldn’t do a worse job than the men.

Herald 29/6/16

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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