Another Labour crisis, another bout of speculation about a possible successor.
Last week the infamously rebellious Jeremy Corbyn instituted a three-line whip instructing his MPs to vote in favour of the government’s Withdrawal from the European Union Bill. Although Corbyn never committed to firing those who disobeyed the whip, four of the fifteen dissenting members of the shadow front bench took the matter out of his hands by resigning.
Among their number was the Shadow Business Secretary, Clive Lewis, a left-winger from the 2015 intake and a long-time ally of Jeremy Corbyn. Lewis’ resignation is indicative of a wider dissatisfaction with Corbyn, a malaise that now seems to be infiltrating even his most ardent group of supporters.
However, while Corbyn’s gradual demise may sound like good news for the party’s centrists, in reality his fall from grace is not because of his left wing values, but because of his pro-Brexit stance. This is where Clive Lewis comes in – a left-wing Labour politician who is more in line with Corbyn’s core support on Brexit. In short: a more likely successor than the lacklustre pool of candidates fielded by Corbyn’s opponents in the last leadership challenge.
And Lewis is not alone; Labour’s left-wing believes that it can boast a strong stable of future successors, including Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner from the 2015 intake and even the veteran Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
While the strength of the above candidates is debatable, it is difficult to argue that the party’s moderate wing has anyone better – or at least not as well placed given the party membership’s leftward shift under Corbyn. Labour’s moderates can point to rising stars like the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, and ex-soldier Dan Jarvis, but it would take a gargantuan effort to overturn the numbers advantage that Corbyn has built up in the membership, assuming they stick around after his exit.
Ultimately, arriving at this situation was the main purpose of Corbyn’s leadership bid, and it has been wildly more successful than he could have anticipated. Corbyn is not a natural leader and, during his leadership bid, he displayed little desire to actually lead. Corbyn’s motivation has always stemmed from his desire to bring the party’s left to a position of greater prominence, a goal he has now achieved.
If Corbyn continues to fare badly at the polls and if Labour performs poorly in upcoming byelections and local elections, there is every possibility that Corbyn could choose to stand down before the next election. But he will only do so if he believes that he can anoint a reliably left-wing successor.