Does it matter who comes second in the Labour leadership contest? According to the polls and bookies, Andy Burnham is vying for second place with Yvette Cooper. Ladbrokes currently have Corbyn on 1/4 to be the next leader, Burnham 7/2 and Cooper 10/1. Assuming these predictions are right and Corbyn wins, it seems unlikely he will hang on through to the 2020 general election.
How would he go? In the Spectator this week, Isabel looks at the various plots to get rid of Corbyn — despite the fact he hasn’t even been elected yet. One mooted idea is that he would be forced to resign by his fellow MPs:
Some Labour MPs say they would refuse to recognise Corbyn’s authority. The joke is that they’ll follow Corbyn’s approach to loyalty on key policies and votes (he defied his party whip more than any other Labour MP). One MP says: ‘He says he rebels because he’s got principles. Well, so do I, and I’m not voting for what he stands for.’
Such rebellions would evolve into serious pressure for Corbyn to step down — perhaps after the poor results in next May’s local elections, which members of the ‘Resistance’ movement set up by Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna expect to be the first sign that voters don’t like Corbyn as much as Labour members do.
This leads to the question: if Corbyn falls, who would replace him? A member of the ‘Resistance’, such as Chuka Umunna or Tristram Hunt is one possibility but there is no proof either of those two would be able to run and win when they didn’t in 2015.
There is also the possibility that Burnham or Cooper could run again as a unifying candidate if one of them comes in second place. If Burnham serves in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, his card may be marked — and his flip-flopping around on policies has disgruntled many in the party. For Cooper, she would most likely wait on the sidelines and tell the party ‘I told you so’.
But speaking to various sources in Labour, there is a feeling that this election is high noon for Burnham and Cooper. There is a sense among some in the party that both have run poor leadership campaigns and it doesn’t matter how well they do this time; once they’ve lost, they’re done. There may be long and happy careers on the front bench ahead but there is a scepticism about whether they could win a leadership contest.
‘Andy or Yvette could’t realistically run again’ says one former Labour adviser. ‘It would need to be someone plausible and unbeaten, such as Alan Johnson’. Although Johnson has said time and time again he doesn’t want to be leader, whoever would succeed Corbyn would have a much better chance of winning if they haven’t been beaten by the man they are applying to replace.