Tomorrow just before noon, Jeremy Corbyn is set to be crowned leader of the Labour party for a second time, possibly, according to insiders, with an even bigger mandate than the one he’s spent the past year waving at his own party. And after months of resignations, fighting, and a leadership contest where the challenger failed to capture the Labour membership’s imagination, Labour MPs are considering what they should do now. Their options are as follows:
1. Leave the party, either by defecting to another or setting themselves up as an independent Labour MP on the benches in the Commons.
There is no suggestion that any MP is seriously considering doing this. The Tories’ battle over grammar schools makes them significantly less attractive to the centrist Blairite types who think that what matters is what works: May’s inability to explain how grammar schools would work when pressed by Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs recently drove that home. The Liberal Democrats have got such a big repair job to do, and their leader Tim Farron is so strongly disliked that his regular calls for Labour MPs to join his party fall on deaf ears. What is far more likely is that MPs who are deselected by their local parties as revenge acts for the Corbyn coup end up forming an independent group in the Commons. But this is passive, not active.
2. Step down at the next election because life is too unbearable.
There are many more Labour MPs who are tempted to do this, and are busy burnishing their CVs. They look at how long it has taken some of their Scottish Labour friends who were unceremoniously unseated in May 2015 to find work, and are not leaving anything to chance. But again, there are more MPs who are resigned to fighting the next election and losing their seat than there are those who are going to announce they are standing down in order to allow a new candidate to be selected. One reason is that opening up a space for a new candidate may make it easier for the hard left to get their people into parliament. And another is less altruistic: you only get your pay-off if you fight the next election, and given that being an MP just isn’t the prestigious job title it once was, that pay-off can come in handy while you look for work.
3. Find something to keep yourself busy.
This is what Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Caroline Flint and Chuka Umunna are doing by standing for election to select committees. Their conclusion is that it is more productive to try to hold the government to account in this independent role rather than as part of Labour’s official frontbench team.
4. Rejoin the Labour frontbench.
A number of prominent names are considering this, including Dan Jarvis. Sarah Champion already returned to the fold, and if the moderates get their way in having elections to the Shadow Cabinet, then many who have seemed very at odds with Corbyn over a long time will return, as they feel an elected position in the Shadow Cabinet gives them sufficient power to be able to stand up to the leader (though he will still have the power to sack shadow ministers) while doing productive work in the Commons and trying to stop Labour from being a parliamentary laughing stock.
5. Start work on the next coup.
As James reports in his cover piece this week, there is already work underway to recruit more moderate members in preparation for another leadership challenge before the 2020 election. This could end up being the third time that the moderates have boasted they can recruit people who care about a strong centre-left force in British politics, only to find that they don’t know how to do this and that insufficient numbers of people think battling the hard left at vicious party branch meetings is a good plan. Others will continue being noisy voices criticising every move that the leader makes.
Whatever option individual MPs go for, the way they interact with their comrades will make a difference in the long term as to whether the party can recover from the Corbyn disaster. The moderates have been offended by the way the soft left, including Owen Smith, have blamed them as an extreme wing in the party that caused the coup and is responsible for the turmoil. The soft left are genuinely frustrated that some Labour MPs didn’t even give Corbyn time to make his acceptance speech before they started kicking up a fuss about him. These personal gripes make it much harder for people to trust one another and work together to get the party back on track, and MPs will need to work together for years before Labour is out of the wilderness and anywhere near the track, let alone plodding along it.