Jeremy Corbyn plans to force through a change to Labour Party rules in an attempt to head off a plot by his internal critics to oust him before the 2020 general election.
Some Labour moderates who fear that the party is heading for another crushing defeat under the left-winger, are now resigned to him leading it into the next election.
A rule change could be discussed by Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) at its meeting next Tuesday. The proposal would guarantee him a place on the ballot paper if he were challenged for his job. Crucially, if his opponents triggered another leadership contest, he would not need to win nominations from 20 per cent of Labour’s 252 MPs and MEPs – 50 backers – while a challenger would have to do so.
When he ran for the leadership this summer, Mr Corbyn cleared the hurdle that applied then - 35 MPs - with the help of MPs who did not vote for him but who wanted to ensure a wider debate. Fewer than 20 of the party’s 232 MPs voted for him, so Mr Corbyn could struggle to win 50 nominations in another contest.
Mr Corbyn normally enjoys a majority on the 33 member-NEC, which includes 12 trade union and six constituency party representatives. It is expected to endorse the change, which would have to be formally approved at next autumn’s Labour conference, where party members and unions each have 50 per cent of the votes.
Corbyn allies insist the move is a tidying up exercise because there is a gap in the current rulebook, which does not say whether the party leader needs to clear the nominations hurdle. One MP said it would be “crazy” to exclude Mr Corbyn from the shortlist so soon after he won a huge mandate from almost 60 per cent of Labour members and supporters in September. He pointed out that Liz Kendall, the Blairite candidate, won just 4.5 per cent of the votes.
However, the move will be seen as an attempt to bolster Mr Corbyn’s position and kill speculation about how long he will keep his job. Only three members of his Shadow Cabinet voted for him to be leader and in his first two months, he has faced repeated criticism at the weekly meeting of Labour MPs.
One Blairite MP said: “A lot of people are keeping their heads down and assuming that Jeremy will inevitably be gone in two years. I’m not so sure of that – I can’t see any obvious process for getting rid of him or any obvious person to take over. I’m not so certain that he won’t still be around in 2020, which would be a disaster.”
Another critic said that a challenge was unlikely before 2017 – and that plans to oust Mr Corbyn next year would be put on hold even if Labour came third behind the Scottish National Party and the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament elections and failed to win the London Mayoral contest next May. Opponents admit the planned rule change could take the decision out of MPs' hands. “Our only hope is that party members judge he is useless and decide to avoid a meltdown in 2020,” another MP said.
MEPs will take part in the nomination process for the first time under a rule change approved at this year’s conference. The new proposal would allow more than one challenger to enter the race if they secured the required 50 nominations. However, MPs already plotting Mr Corbyn’s downfall hope to unite behind one challenger – although many admit they lack an obvious candidate at present. The new rule may deter them, as Mr Corbyn would be highly likely to be re-elected by the party members, union members and registered supporters who paid £3 to take part in this year’s contest. Some MPs believe the party could give him an even bigger majority.
Labour’s membership has almost doubled since the general election
However, the new rule could make it harder for Mr Corbyn, who is 66, to stand down to make way for a left-wing ally before the general election. His favoured successor would need to win nominations from 50 MPs and MEPs.
Asked about the NEC session, a Labour spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on private meetings.”
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
1/11 He called Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’
True. In a speech made to the Stop the War Coalition in 2009, Mr Corbyn called representatives from both groups “friends” after inviting them to Parliament. He later told Channel 4 he wanted both groups, who have factions designated as international terror organisations, to be “part of the debate” for the Middle East peace process. “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he added. “Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
2/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy’
Partly false. David Cameron used this as a line of attack at the Conservative Party conference but appears to have left out all context from Mr Corbyn’s original remarks. In an 2011 interview on Iranian television, the then-backbencher said the fact the al-Qaeda leader was not put on trial was the tragedy, continuing: “The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.”
3/11 He is ‘haunted’ by the legacy of his ‘evil’ great-great-grandfather
False. A Daily Express exposé revealed that the Labour leader’s ancestor, James Sargent, was the “despotic” master of a Victorian workhouse. Addressing the report at the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he had never heard of him before, adding: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not doing the decent thing and going back in time and having a chat with him about his appalling behaviour.”
4/11 Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion about ‘pigeon bombs’ in Parliament
This one is true. On 21 May 2004, Mr Corbyn raised an early day motion entitled “pigeon bombs”, proposing that the House register being “appalled but barely surprised” that MI5 reportedly proposed to load pigeons with explosives as a weapon. The motion continued: “The House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.” It was not carried.
5/11 He rides a Communist bicycle
False. A report in The Times referred to Mr Corbyn, known for his cycling, riding a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle” earlier this year. “Less thorough journalists might have referred to it as just a bicycle, but no, so we have to conclude that whenever we see somebody on a bicycle from now on, there goes another supporter of Chairman Mao,” he later joked.
6/11 'Jeremy Corbyn will appoint a special minister for Jews'
False so far. The Sun report in December was allegedly based on a “rumour” passed to the paper by a Daily Express columnist who has written pieces critical of the Labour leader in the past. The minister did not materialise in his shadow cabinet.
7/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn wishes Britain would abolish its Army’
False. Another gem from The Sun took comments made at a Hiroshima remembrance parade in August 2012 where Mr Corbyn supported Costa Rica’s move to abolish it armed forces. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world…abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army,” he added. The caveat that “every politician” must take the step suggests Mr Corbyn does not support UK disarmament just yet.
8/11 Jeremy Corbyn stole sandwiches meant for veterans
False. The Guido Fawkes blog claimed that the Labour leader took sandwiches meant for veterans at at Battle of Britain memorial service in September but a photo later emerged showing him being handed one by Costa volunteers, who later confirmed they were given to all guests.
9/11 He missed the induction into the Queen’s privy council
True. After much speculation about Mr Corbyn’s republican views and willingness to bow to the monarch, his office confirmed that he did not attend the official induction to the privy council because of a prior engagement, but did not rule out joining the body.
10/11 Jeremy Corbyn refuses to sing the national anthem.
Partly true. The Labour leader was filmed standing in silence as God Save the Queen was sung at a Battle of Britain remembrance service but will reportedly sing it in future. Mr Corbyn was elusive on the issue in an interview, saying he would show memorials “respect in the proper way”, but sources said he would sing the anthem at future occasions.
11/11 He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
True. The group lists its purpose as the following: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
One Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, has already said he would be prepared to run as a “stalking horse” to ensure a leadership race. Corbyn supporters say his critics should respect his mandate and turn their fire on the Tory Government.
In another attempt to protect Mr Corbyn, his supporters are planning to ensure that as many of them are chosen by local parties as delegates to next year’s annual conference.
Labour’s membership has almost doubled to 370,000 since the general election in May. More than 50,000 of the 180,000 new recruits signed up after Mr Corbyn’s election in September.