Jeremy Corbyn plans change to Labour Party rules to head off plot to oust him by next election

Exclusive: Proposed rule change would guarantee the Labour leader a place on the ballot paper if challenged for his job

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.

Jeremy Corbyn's sideye has become a full death stare

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.

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Simon Danczuk has said he is prepared to run as a stalking horse to ensure a leadership race (Getty)

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.

370,000

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.”

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.

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