What is Jeremy Corbyn up to? The appeal in his letter to Remainers in the Commons to turf Boris Johnson out, and magically transform the Leader of the Opposition into an ‘interim’ Prime Minister – one who would block not just a no-deal Brexit but any Brexit at all, looks like something out of a Bulgakov novel. But there is a sensible – at least from Corbyn’s point of view – purpose behind it.
Few of the various ex-Labour and ex-Conservative independent MPs are likely to support the appeal. Many Corbyn-despising Labour MPs will not back it. A couple of Tories might decide to end their parliamentary careers endorsing it. But Corbyn’s appeal will effectively dissuade most moderate Tory Remainers from voting against their own Government. The Lib Dems, ambitious above all for themselves, have already dismissed the idea as ‘nonsense’.
Corbyn must have known that would be the reaction and that the likely support of SNP MPs would not be enough. So why has he done it?
The likeliest answer is that he wants it to become clear, before Parliament reconvenes in September, that he could not win both a no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson and a confidence vote in himself. That is, he wants an excuse for ducking a no-confidence vote altogether, since a successful no-confidence vote could turn out to be the worst of all world’s for him.
By far the best strategy for Corbyn would be to allow no deal, remove the excuse for an early election, expect that Brexit will be shown to be an economic disaster, one worsened by a global capitalist recession, gradually drain the energy which Boris has injected into the Tories and pray that an election in 2022 will push him into power. That was probably always the strategy once it became clear that Theresa May was out, and that the early election that Corbyn had previously believed he would win had become much riskier. After all, it is likely that he will have only one shot at seizing power.
It’s true that this strategy is also not without risk: Boris will receive a very big initial boost from achieving a no-deal Brexit and thereby removing much – although admittedly not all – of the Brexit party’s purpose. If Corbyn could be sure of blocking no deal and forcing Boris into an election after the ‘do or die’ mission had failed, that might well be a course he would favour.
But he cannot be sure of that – and a failure of his appeal might in fact be a success for his strategy, making the best of a bad job by revealing to Remainers that no one can be sure of blocking Brexit.
What we are seeing then is Corbyn’s contribution to the mind games being played on one side by Hammond and Bercow – Yes, we can stop Brexit – and on the other side by Dominic Cummings – ‘No, you can’t’ – in efforts to sway Tory Remainers.
Corbyn, it seems, is doing his best, quite deliberately and rationally, to let it be shown that the Cummings’ view is the right one. He doesn’t want a no-confidence vote because he no longer wants an early election, certainly not a “Parliament versus the people” election.