Jeremy Corbyn is a famous rebel, so famous that when he was elected, many in his party wondered how he might tell MPs to vote the way he wanted them to when he himself had refused to listen to the whips throughout his backbench career. When he was still a backbencher, he enjoyed telling a tale about Sadiq Khan, then his whip, ringing him up to check he would definitely be rebelling on a certain vote, and not bothering to waste his energy trying to get him to abstain instead.
Now the Labour leader is faced with one of those awkward moments that involve him telling his MPs to vote a certain way on a controversial issue, and those MPs rightly being a bit miffed. But it’s not the ‘Bitterites’ who are causing the trouble so far on the Labour leader’s suggestion this afternoon that he would expect his party to vote in favour of triggering Article 50. Clive Lewis, that well-known Blairite (for those who struggle with sarcasm and the internet, this is not true unless you read the Canary regularly), has told his local paper he needs more assurances from the government before he can support this vote. It is curious that Corbyn has given such a strong indication of support so soon, when he could make Labour’s consent conditional upon certain details being revealed (this is one of the ways Oppositions traditionally scrutinise governments, something that may have been lost on the Labour leader during his many years of scrutinising by voting against his own party repeatedly).
It hasn’t been a great day for Labour, though that sentence in itself is now rapidly becoming a ‘dog bites man’ sort of story. The party is now at 25 per cent in the polls, according to YouGov, 17 points behind the Tories. In this week’s magazine, I’ve looked at how it is faring in its Northern and Midlands heartlands, with some observations from insiders that are far more painful for the party than a dog bite. Dan Jarvis is one MP who has been fretting about Labour’s message on immigration, and has told The House magazine that the issue has become ‘toxic’. But we already know this. In fact, we’ve known for a long time what most of Labour’s problems are. Its problem is not that it doesn’t understand what its problem is. It’s that it already knows but refuses to do anything about it.