Keir Starmer has it in for Jeremy Corbyn.
Ever since Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party in October 2020, following the EHRC’s critical report into antisemitism complaints under his leadership*, he and his allies have insisted that this was just a cover by Starmer to force him out of the party. While his party membership was reinstated in November 2020, his Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) membership was not and he remains an independent MP to this day.
Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Starmer has now said publicly that he doesn’t ‘see how [it] is possible‘ for Corbyn to stand under the Labour banner at the next election. But can he actually stop him?
The Labour Party Rule Book, a document we thought we could forget along with the phrase ‘Crunch Labour NEC meeting’, governs who can stand as a Labour candidate.
Where the party has a sitting MP, that MP is automatically re-selected unless they lose a ‘trigger ballot’. A rule change at the 2021 conference (see page 69 onwards of this document) has raised the threshold for deselection from one third of the local party and ‘affiliated branches’ to half, making it difficult to remove a sitting MP. Corbyn, much loved by his local activists, would probably sail through any challenge.
But those rules (specifically, Paragraph 5 of Clause IV of Chapter 5 of the Rules) only apply ‘If a CLP is represented in Parliament by a member of the PLP’. As stated above, Corbyn isn’t a member of the PLP. With Starmer seemingly determined not to restore the whip, it isn’t clear to me that a trigger ballot will even happen.
So what then? Helpfully, the rules don’t explicitly say. Paragraph 6 of the same clause states that if there is no MP, the MP is retiring, or the MP loses the trigger ballot, then the local members vote on a shortlist put together by the ‘CLP Shortlisting Committee’. Does Corbyn count as ‘No MP’ given he is not a Labour MP? If so, could that committee be convinced to ignore Corbyn despite his clear interest to the selectorate? Unclear, on both counts.
The grey area extends in Starmer’s favour with the final rules, which give the NEC the power to veto any candidate (Paragraph 8A) and to dispense with ‘the normal procedure’ when ‘the NEC are of the opinion that the interests of the Party would be best served’ (Paragraph 10). I’m further reliably informed that a new longlisting phase to selections, with NEC veto, will be added before the next election.
As you probably appreciate by now, this is likely to all end in tears and NEC rulings. The NEC now has a clear anti-Corbyn majority (as very clearly shown by them voting in January 23 vs 14 not to re-admit him to the PLP ). And they are the final arbiter of Labour rule disputes unless Corbyn goes to the courts, who are likely to not want to get involved.
Corbyn has reportedly told allies that he’ll run as an independent candidate if he has to, setting up an enticing story for the media (and perhaps a boon for Starmer, who clearly wants to rebrand the party to the public as non-Corbynite).
While it is hard to think of a stronger candidate to run against their old party, I still think Corbyn would struggle in such a scenario. MP’s personal votes are generally much smaller than they think and Corbyn’s massive majority owes more to Labour’s popularity in that area than his specific appeal. His 26k majority in 2019 is impressive, but next door the Labour MP won by 28k. That neighbouring MP? Keir Starmer.
These are not the results of two constituencies with dramatically different voter ideologies – the party brand is simply very strong with the demographics who live in central London.
In short, I think Corbyn’s prospects are tied pretty firmly to his ability to be reselected by his local party. He clearly has the votes he needs there, but Starmer has the votes on the NEC and will certainly try and intervene. If you pressed me I’d say Starmer, a lawyer himself, will find a way to get what he wants from the rules. But the situation is ambiguous to say the least.
From a betting perspective, Smarkets will let you wager on if Corbyn will be re-elected in any seat with any designation. Odds slightly favour ‘No’, which is probably fair or a touch of value that outcome. Ladbrokes will give you 12/1 on him being re-elected as a Green MP, but there’s no sign he’ll try that path.
Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
*(Strictly speaking he was suspended for his response to the report, where he rejected many of its findings)
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on Jeremy Corbyn not to be re-elected at roughly 9/10 You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts