The Labour Leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and Patterns of Opinion in the PLPBy Laura Sudulich on 21 November 2017
By Andrew Scott Crines, David Jeffery, Timothy Heppell University of Liverpool
This is a summary of the article published on JEPOP. The aricle is here
How did Jeremy Corbyn win?
The leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been a disaster for the Labour Party. This is the common view that is based on the assumptions as set out by Leonard Stark in Choosing a Leader; namely, that a leader must unify a party (Corbyn has divided it), they are electorally convincing (Corbyn lost the 2017 general election), they are competent at managing a party (his leadership was challenged) and have policies that can be implemented once electoral victory has been achieved (McDonnell argued Labour would trigger a run on the pound).
The key assumption is that parties will choose a leader that has these skills and abilities. Throughout much of Labour history these assumptions appear to have driven the process of leader selection. Indeed, regardless of the system used (be that the Parliamentary ballot until 1980, or the electoral college until 2010) the need to find a leader with these skills seems to have been the main driver of leadership election. For example, Kinnock in 1983 was one half of a ‘dream team’; Smith in 1992 argued Labour only needed ‘one more heave’ to win in 1997; Blair in 1994 renewed the party around the moniker of ‘New Labour’; Brown in 2007 sought to take ‘New Labour’ forward; Miliband in 2010 sought to secure victory through ‘One Nation Labour’. Each of these leaders attempted to extend Labour’s appeal beyond the core support base to gain as much electoral support as possible.
Jeremy Corbyn in Context
So what about Corbyn? His election seems to have invalidated these assumptions in a somewhat dramatic way. Not just once (in 2015) but twice (in 2016). To understand how and why Corbyn has subverted Stark by securing the leadership we need to look at the electoral system now in place. It is based on one member, one vote regardless of the level of party membership/affiliation. A fully paid up member or Labour MP now has as much say as a registered supporter (those who paid £3 in 2015 and £25 in 2016) who may/will have different considerations when selecting the leader. Indeed, the need to manage the PLP (and broader party) will be less important to those on the hard left than ideological conformity. Needless to say the PLP remained committed to the principles of an electorally salient leader, and between 2015 and 2017 manifest this through rebellions, publicly calling upon Corbyn to resign, and a vote of no confidence following Corbyn’s less than impressive performance during the EU referendum. Having failed to unseat him, the PLP finally appeared resigned to their fate of electoral wipeout.
However, that Corbyn managed to increase the number of MPs (yet still clearly lose the election to the Conservatives despite a terribly executed campaign) appears to have convinced the PLP to demonstrate more loyalty to Corbyn after the 2017 general election. But this does not safeguard them from a now emboldened rank and file (Momentum) who see loyalty to Corbyn as the prime driver of their ideological objectives. But despite this resurgent hard left rank and file the PLP remains the main front of the Labour Party for the majority of voters.
Patterns of Opinion
We sought out to test a series of hypotheses of MPs attitudes and voting patterns towards Corbyn over the course of his turbulent leadership. We used a multi-nominal logistic regression to examine how a variable on an outcome measured the level of support of the PLP for the leader. First we tested demographic hypotheses (age, gender, trade union); then political hypotheses (year of entry (that MPs elected after 2010 would be more loyal to Corbyn), the region that an MP represented, size of an MPs majority, constituency competition, CLP endorsements for Corbyn); and finally ideological hypotheses (Brexit, immigration, attitude towards Trident renewal).
Using our statistical models we discerned that both age and trade union membership are statistically significant with older Parliamentarians and those not in a trade union being most likely to support Corbyn. We also found that there was no statistical evidence to suggest that gender was a significant variable. In terms of our political variables we did find evidence of a cohort effect – namely, that MPs elected during the Blair years were less likely to support Corbyn whilst those elected after 2010 were found to be more supportive. This also suggests that there has been a clear leftward shift in the PLP under Miliband and Corbyn. We also discovered that a CLP’s position on Corbyn was a statistically significant finding with non-pro CLP’s being less likely to support the leader. We did find, however that there is no statistical evidence to suggest that those MPs with London-based constituencies (or those less marginal) are more likely to support Corbyn. We also found that those MPs facing a right wing (Conservative/UKIP) challenge are not less likely to support Corbyn. In terms of ideology, we found that those who voted against the renewal of Trident are more likely to support Corbyn. Interestingly, we did not find any statistical evidence to suggest that Brexit or immigration were likely to affect an MPs attitude towards Corbyn’s leadership.
Thus our findings appear to subvert the assumptions that Corbyn has a London-centric support base, nor does Corbyn’s un-electability as Prime Minister prevent MPs with smaller majorities from supporting his leadership. Corbyn supporters accuse the PLP of being motivated by self interest in trying to safeguard their seats, yet this appears not to be the case given the evidence. Also of interest is that on Trident 48 members of the PLP opposed its renewal (supporting Corbyn’s position) yet 28 of them went on to support the no confidence motion calling for his resignation as leader whilst only 20 supported him. Also of interest is 169 Labour MPs support Corbyn’s controversial position of open door immigration yet he could only secure the support of 40 MPs supporting that view. In total, the number of MPs who agreed with Corbyn on each of these positions was only 39. We also noted that the number of MPs supporting positions in direct opposition to Corbyn was only 19. Consequently we conclude there is limited evidence of a cohesive bloc of anti-Corbyn Parliamentarians.
Needless to say further findings are explored in the article, but what we can conclude is that since 2010 and 2015 there has been a leftwards shift in the Labour Party that has supplanted the ideological assumptions of orthodox social democracy which have driven centre-left politics in the United Kingdom since 1945. The main failure of the modernisers since 1983 was assuming that they had won the arguments and that following the New Labour governments the failure to articulate a clearly convincing renewal strategy has enabled the hard left to reassert itself at all levels of the Party. Worse still for the modernisers is the 2017 general election appears to have galvanised the hard left hold over not just the rank and file (who have equal say in leadership selection) but also amongst elements of the PLP.