Jeremy Corbyn 'likely to stay on' even if Labour suffers crushing election defeat

Ben Kentish
Jeremy Corbyn (PA)

Jeremy Corbyn is expected to stay on as Labour leader even if he leads his party to a crushing election defeat on June 8, The Independent can reveal.

Party figures close to the Labour leader have said there is a good chance Mr Corbyn will either refuse to resign or run again to retain power.

The key goal of Mr Corbyn’s group is that regardless of the election result, he cling to power at least until after party conference when his allies can attempt to change the system of electing the leader in a bid to secure a leftwing successor.

The news was met with anger, with one MP warning that a devastating loss at the hands of Theresa May’s Tories will make Mr Corbyn’s position untenable, while another branded the situation “f****** ridiculous”.

Current polls suggest Labour is on course to lose up to 70 seats, reducing the number of its MPs by almost a third. A recent ComRes poll for The Independent gave the Prime Minister a 21-point lead over her Labour rival.

While Party leaders who fail at the ballot box traditionally step aside, as Ed Miliband did in 2015 or David Cameron following defeat in the EU referendum, Labour sources who know Mr Corbyn well and those close to Labour leadership rivals say he is likely to stay on as leader as he bids to cement the powerbase of the hard left.

One individual close to the Labour leader: “He has only been leader for two years, he hasn’t had a whole term and there was the disruptive influence of the second leadership contest. I can see the argument for why he wouldn’t step down.

“They want to get the rule change through – you have to look at it in that context. He might hang on until they get that through. There is a feeling that two years is not long enough and it would be legitimate if he wanted to stay on.”

At the party’s annual conference in September Mr Corbyn’s allies are expected to bring forward key proposals to reduce the number of MP nominations needed for a candidate seeking to be elected as party leader.

Current rules require each candidate to secure the backing of 15 per cent of the MPs in the parliamentary party, which would make it difficult for a left-wing successor such as current Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell or Rebecca Long-Bailey to receive enough nominations.

But the proposals would lower the threshold, meaning each candidate would need the backing off just five per cent. The move is seen as vital in enabling one of Mr Corbyn’s left-wing allies to make the ballot in a future leadership election.

Mr Corbyn could then step aside safe in the knowledge that he could nominate a successor who was likely to win the support of the party’s current left-wing membership.

Another former Labour staffer who worked closely with Mr Corbyn, said: “There is a good chance he will either refuse to resign or run again. If he were to run again, I see no reason why he could not win again.

“Those who have his ear do not see a general election loss as anything more than another obstacle on the long road to control over the Labour Party."

The rule change to be debated at party conference is named after Mr McDonnell, who twice failed in his bid for leader of the party due to a failure to secure enough nominations from his fellow MPs.

Under party rules, a matter debated at party conference cannot be discussed for another three years, meaning this year’s gathering is seen as the big opportunity for Mr Corbyn’s allies to change the game in their favour.

Among those waiting for Mr Corbyn’s tenure to end, some sort of move to retain power is expected, certainly a refusal to step aside in the immediate aftermath of a loss on June 8 would be no surprise.

One well-placed party insider said: “Corbyn’s proven he can tough it out, he’ll take the hit and wait for the McDonnell amendment. He’s got every reason to hang on until then.

“He’ll stay until after [the party conference in] Brighton, without doubt. They’ve got this big shot in the autumn to try to change the rules so that they can have a proper hard left candidate. They’re not going to walk away from that.

“He will not stand down, he will see it through to conference and they will try to get the McDonnell amendment through.”

But the idea that Corbyn could remain in power following a defeat prompted anger from some senior figures. One former Labour minister said: “If we go backwards, Corbyn’s position will be completely untenable and he will have to go – there’s no question of that.

“Labour MPs will unite and put our case to the public in our own constituencies, but the leader will have to take responsibility for the national result.”

Another individual connected to a senior Labour figure said: “We had heard that something like this was being planned. It’s f****** ridiculous.”

One MP told The Independent: "They have to acknowledge that if the result is as bad as the polling and the Copeland by-election result suggest, then they are responsible. I've heard of project fear. This sounds like project catastro-f***."

Meanwhile London Labour MP Neil Coyle simply said: "Going into this election Jeremy Corbyn is our leader. All leaders must take responsibility for what they achieve."

Polling suggests Mr Corbyn may well under pressure from party members to resign if he leads Labour to election defeat. A YouGov poll carried out last month found 68 per cent believe he should step down after a loss, while only 20 per cent think he should continue.

Potential candidate to replace him from other wings in the party could include current Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, former paratrooper Dan Jarvis, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Yvette Cooper, who was defeated by Mr Corbyn in the 2015 contest.

Clive Lewis, a left-winger who was previously close to Mr Corbyn, could also run if he manages to retain his Norwich seat in the face of a strong Liberal Democrat and Conservative challenge.

Mr Corbyn refused to say what he will do if Labour loses the election, when The Independent contacted him.

He said: “We are campaigning to win this election, that’s the only question now.

“I want to lead a government that will transform this country – give real hope to everybody and above all bring about a principle of justice for everybody and economic opportunities for everybody.”

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