Palace coup or suicide mission?

By Chris Rogers April 6, 2016 10:26 am

If you believe the headlines in The Times, Angela Eagle is being lined up as a successor to Jeremy Corbyn by Labour MPs desperate for a change of leadership before the Party’s annual conference.

Corbyn activists are expected to try and push through changes to the selection and election of the Party leader at the annual conference. And Labour MPs recognise that would not only make the nomination of a leftwing candidate easier and more likely, but would present significant barriers to removing Mr Corbyn from office.

Their perspective – if reports are to be believed – is that they need to show Mr Corbyn the door before rule changes mean he can effectively decide when he’s going to stand down.

Twelve months ago, you’d have got long odds on Angela Eagle as leader of the Labour Party. Ironically one of the few MPs you’d have got longer odds on is Mr Corbyn himself. But after a string of impressive parliamentary performances, Ms Eagle has emerged as a candidate Labour MPs think they can get behind – and, as importantly, one they believe will retain the support of, or at least not alienate, the rank and file.

And therein lies the rub for Labour MPs. They are in a truly unenviable position. Moderates remain deeply concerned at the direction the Party is going in, with reports also suggesting dissention amongst the backbenches at Mr Corbyn’s performance at the likes of the Budget. The grumblings within the parliamentary ranks suggest a real belief that Mr Corbyn cannot lead them to electoral victory in 2020.

Such thinking makes talk of a change of leader inevitable. Some on the back – and even the front – benches will believe that removing Mr Corbyn from his post is for the good of the Party. But by taking action that might increase Labour’s general election chances, MPs will risk the ire of many party activists loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, who might ultimately demand their deselection.

The suggestion mooted by an MP in The Times was someone like Ms Eagle could be a unity candidate before someone else comes along to lead Labour into a General Election. Given the militancy of many Party activists, that might be the only way a change of leader could happen. But it’s difficult to envisage a serious leadership candidate volunteering for such a duty – knowing they would be staking their career and would almost certainly be no more than a stopgap, likely never to return as leader again.

So would effort by the parliamentary party to remove Mr Corbyn be a palace coup on the way to improved electoral chances? Or is it simply a suicide mission? And if so, who’s likely to volunteer?

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