Caretaker Corbyn: a Shrewd Gambit or a Big Mistake?

© AP Photo / Ben Birchall/PABritain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (File)
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (File) - Sputnik International
Is Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, of forming ‘a strictly time-limited temporary government’, to stop a No-Deal Brexit a political master-stroke, or a major miscalculation?

If the Labour leader’s main aim was to call the Liberal Democrats’ bluff on their much-heralded desire to block ‘No Deal’, then you can say the initiative worked brilliantly.

​The new Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson immediately ruled out working with Corbyn, leading to much criticism from Remainers. The party that we were told, would anything to stop Brexit, (including saying some very rude words about it), appeared yesterday to prefer a ’No Deal’ under Boris Johnson, than Caretaker Corbyn securing an extension to Article 50.

Yet, Swinson’s line that Corbyn’s wouldn’t be able to command a majority in the House can’t be summarily dismissed either. Note, Swinson didn’t say she wouldn’t work with Labour, only that she wouldn’t support Corbyn becoming PM, even for a short period. When it comes to the prospect of him becoming Prime Minister (whether as a caretaker or more permanently) the biggest problem Corbyn faces is his own PLP. When push comes to shove, how many of his own MPs can he rely on?

That becomes crucial now that the Lib Dems have apparently shifted ground - with party sources telling the Independent newspaper today that they had no ‘principled objection’ to supporting Corbyn as an interim P.M.

Tory Remainers though seem to have U-turned in the opposite direction. Yesterday, former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve did not rule out backing Corbyn. Today, he’s been quoted as saying he ‘will not facilitate’ Corbyn as a temporary PM.

At time of writing you’d have to put the odds at no more than 50:50 as to whether ‘Caretaker Corbyn’ becomes a reality.

If it does, then Corbyn and his team will hope that by getting to 10 Downing Street, albeit on a strictly temporary basis, the Rubicon will have been crossed.

Corbyn would go into the subsequent General Election as acting Prime Minister, not as Opposition leader. What political pundits told us would never happen- Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten- would have occurred. For a man who has relentlessly smeared, attacked and labelled an ’extremist/Marxist/Stalinist/Trotskyist/terrorist-supporter/Putin apologist/anti-semite/racist/ IRA supporter/Communist spy’, that would be quite an achievement.  

However, there is a danger that by becoming a caretaker Prime Minister, associated with delaying or blocking Brexit, Corbyn might actually ruin his chances of becoming PM for much longer.

Consider the fact that 78% of Labour’s 45 target seats in England and Wales- seats it needs to win from the Tories to get a majority in the Commons-voted Leave in 2016, some by as much as 60%.

To try and tempt staunchly pro-EU opposition leaders to back him as an interim PM,  Corbyn has quite understandably shifted his position to a more anti-Brexit one, promising that Labour would campaign in the next election for a second referendum in which Remain would be an option.

But while this makes sense in trying to win Parliament over, is it the right strategy for winning in the country? Boris Johnson, if toppled as PM by a pro-Remain Parliament, would be able to go into the next election claiming (with some justification) that only the Conservatives- from the big three traditional parties- were determined to deliver Brexit.

If an electoral pact were to be formed between the Tories and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, then the damage to Labour could be great in those key, must-win marginals in England and Wales. Even greater if Labour does what some have called for, and become an out-and-out Remain Party.

The only way, from a Labour perspective, that a ‘Caretaker Corbyn’ scheme might work is if the party makes it clear that its objection is not to Brexit per se, but to a No-Deal Brexit. But is that likely to happen, with the party becoming more pro-Remain with each month that passes?

Looking at the matter with complete objectivity, probably the best prospect for Corbyn becoming PM for more than just a short period, would be for Brexit to go through on 31st October under Boris Johnson and a general election held after that- and after de-selections have taken place in the PLP. With Brexit out of the way, then the election would be more likely to be fought on those issues where Labour's policies have much more appeal than the Conservatives', such as the renationalisation of the railways, ending NHS privatisation and maintaining free tv licences for the elderly. 

Here’s the paradox. If you really want Corbyn to lead a transformative Labour government that serves at least one full term in office, then it’s probably best if we don’t get ’Caretaker Corbyn’, however appealing that prospect might be- and however worried we are about a ‘No-Deal’. 

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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