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If Kezia and Khan hope Corbyn will go in an early general election, they could be in for a surprise.

They don’t give up. Following the abortive #chickencoup, last month when the 172 Labour MPs signed a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader’s support in the party seemed if anything to grow. Then Labour’s ruling NEC tried to exclude new Labour members to weed out the “trots” as supporters of Corbyn are described by so-called “moderates”. That didn’t work. Now they’re mounting what looks like a series of suicide attacks on Corbyn.

The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan announced at the weekend that he wanted Jeremy Corbyn removed on the eve of leadership ballot papers being sent out to members. Now Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, has announced that she too is supporting Corbyn’s rival, Owen Smith, even though he seems to have loser written all over his face. This has caused some friction because she declined to say whom she would support last time.

But it also seems somewhat futile. Corbyn is miles ahead in terms of support from Labour constituency parties. No one seems to believe that Owen Smith can win, and he is now being lambasted as a fraud even by virulently anti-Corbyn Labour commentators like the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges. So why have the Scottish and London Labour party leaders chosen this moment to disown the odds-on favourite to win the Labour leadership election? Do they know something we don’t?

Is there some scandal brewing about Jeremy Corbyn’s tax returns? Is Labour’s leadership election going to be altered again so that only party members who joined under Tony Blair are allowed to vote? No – it’s more likely Dugdale and Kahn are part of a move to prepare the party for a general election defeat that they hope will kill Corbynism stone dead.

There’s speculation that Theresa May is about to call a snap election to consolidate her position, post Brexit. What better time than now? Labour is in terminal disarray;Team GB has just beaten China in the Olympic medals tables; the economy seems to be performing better than was forecast before the referendum. Things can surely only get worse as her ministers engage with the fraught task of taking Britain out of Europe.

Corbyn is probably thinking what May is thinking too, which may explain why he has ruled out any “progressive alliance” with the SNP. Labour was damaged in the 2015 general election by those posters of Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, and the claims that the SNP was about to grab England’s cash. Time to clear the decks.
If Labour is defeated in an early election and Corbyn falls on his sword, Khan might even think he’s in with a shout as a future Labour leader. Owen Smith will be history and the London Mayor has shown he can win elections with “real” voters, not Labour members. Kezia Dugdale needs to fight off any challenge from her Scottish left wing. But the Dugdale/Kahn strategy – if such it is – could come unstuck. For a start there’s no guarantee that Corbyn would necessarily resign after an election defeat.

Many of Labour’s 600,000 members regard Jeremy Corbyn as a socialist messiah and winning elections comes a poor second to defending the faith. After an election defeat, angry Corbynites might turn their wrath instead on rebel Labour MPs and prominent figures like Khan for helping to make Labour unelectable. There have been rumours in Westminster that Labour MPs have been having talks with Tory MPs encouraging an early election.

In Scotland the recriminations after another election defeat would be savage if it appeared that UK Labour MPs had connived at the return of a Tory government. The divisions are on open display this week as Jeremy Corbyn comes to Scotland for a hustings debate with Owen Smith. Kezia Dugdale is standing well clear while the left Labour MSP, Neil Findlay, will be promoting Corbyn’s every move.

Scottish Labour Party looks to be the next casualty of Labour’s civil war. The Scottish Labour Party has a claimed membership of 23,000 which is about one fifth of he SNP’s membership in Scotland. It is just too small to cope with an ideological divide as deep as this. But it is hard to see how the party can maintain any semblance of unity when the elected members in Westminster are so at odds with the party members. If Labour MPs and MSPs launch a scorched earth policy it’s Nicola Sturgeon who will inherit the desert.

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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