Over the last couple of weeks, I've made a few mentions of Diane Abbott's dictum that it's always the right that walks out on Labour, not the left. I think that's probably correct, meaning that if there is any split in the party after the leadership election, it's much more likely to be caused by an SDP-style Blairite breakaway ("Blaixit") than by an exodus of the left. But there is one possible exception to that general rule, which could come about if anyone is foolish enough to listen to the man with a unique track record of having helped Labour lose elections in both Australia and Scotland over the last couple of years, namely the one and only John "the Gardener" McTernan.
Astonishingly, McTernan has said today that Jeremy Corbyn should be instantly removed from office if he is elected leader. I had assumed that the Blairite plan might be to give Corbyn a year or two, in the hope that his eventual demise would look like an organic process brought about by poor opinion polls and local election results. But there would be no cover story for an immediate overthrow - it would be a coup, plain and simple. Presumably the leadership election rules would then be swiftly changed to block off any possible mechanism for reversing the coup, even in the long-term - so how could the left possibly remain within the party after that? It would inevitably be seen as Labour's own internal version of the Chilean coup of 1973 - Pinochet without the guns and tanks.
You could easily imagine a "Real Labour" party being set up, led by "Labour's legitimate elected leader" and financially supported by the trade unions that backed Corbyn. It wouldn't necessarily be only a Campaign Group outfit - many soft left MPs would be so infuriated by the death of democracy within official Labour that they might just be tempted to make the move across. As McTernan is supposedly so keen on "realism" and winning at all costs, it would be interesting to know how he thinks provoking such a schism would help defeat the Tories in 2020, especially under an electoral system that severely punishes split oppositions.
If Corbyn is elected, and the parliamentary party find that they really can't live with him as leader, the most elegant way of averting a disastrous split would be some kind of negotiated "retirement" after two or three years, in return for a Corbyn proxy such as John McDonnell being appointed to a senior position in the Shadow Cabinet. That would doubtless horrify McTernan, but in the "real world", John, the idea that the left can win a leadership election fair and square, and that you can then just ignore that and pretend that it has no consequences, simply isn't tenable.
Incidentally, the German Social Democrats won the 1998 election "in spite of" the left-wing Oskar Lafontaine being both party chairman and Finance Minister-designate (ie. Shadow Chancellor). So the assumption that modern electorates will never countenance voting for a party with a strong traditional left component doesn't stack up.
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McTernan also added that he thinks Corbyn's popularity is an emotional spasm, because "so many people believed Labour were going to win this election". Of course, McTernan himself didn't merely "believe" Labour would win, he knew it for a fact. At his Summerhall lecture that I went to just over a year ago, he told us that he could "guarantee" a Labour government if we voted No in the independence referendum.
We're still waiting for our money back, John.