If Jeremy Corbyn is elected as Labour leader, how long would he last? Blairities, such as John McTernan, have promoted the idea of an instacoup — taking him out as soon as possible. Or the party might decide further down the line they’ve had enough. In either scenario, there is a formal procedure for removing a leader. Under the 2014 Labour rule book (produced after the Collins review), clause two of chapter four explains how a leader can be challenged:
‘Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of Party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.’
Labour currently has 232 MPs, which means anyone challenging Corbyn for the leadership would need 46 supporters. Given that Burnham had 68 backers in the leadership contest, Cooper 59 and Kendall 41, reaching this threshold does not look like a difficult task. There are also some informal ways Corbyn could be removed: a mass resignation of Cabinet members or a vote of no confidence from Labour MPs would pile pressure on Corbyn to step down.
For Corbyn’s enemies, timing is key. If he was removed in an instacoup, Labour would likely descend into a full-blown civil war between the leadership and grassroots, given that he would have just been elected through a democratic process. Plus, there is no formal rule stopping Corbyn from standing again. The more plausible scenario is that Corbyn would be challenged a few months/years in his leadership. There is one particular flashpoint next year to watch: 5 May 2016. If Labour fails to win the Mayor of London race, loses Wales and fails to make any progress in Scotland, there will be calls for him to go.
But this requires a candidate who is willing to stand up and challenge Corbyn. This is how the party failed to remove Gordon Brown in 2007, when James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet but no candidate was willing to put their head above the parapet. The same issue was encountered in 2011, when Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell reportedly tried to remove Ed Miliband but failed to persuade Alan Johnson to challenge him. ‘If the PLP didn’t have the cojones to challenge Miliband when he was leader, there is no chance they will take on Corbyn and the whole of the left,’ says a Labour party source.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson is being mooted again as someone who could step in if the party is in the doldrums. Or David Miliband could always swoop back from New York to take up his rightful position. But right now, these both look like fantasy candidates. Johnson has proven before he isn’t up for challenging a leader and Miliband isn’t even in Parliament. Unless a hero emerges from Labour, it looks as if the only person who can remove Jeremy Corbyn is the man himself.