As I write Labour politicians are defecting from the shadow cabinet at a rate faster than people left the Titanic. That analogy is flawed as it seems most people behaved rather honourably in that bygone age (although First Class women passengers had the highest survival rate, Third Class women had a higher survival rate than First Class men).
The reasons for this mass desertion are many but fundamentally they come down to Corbyn’s leadership during the referendum campaign and his prospects of winning if there is a general election in the near future.
The first I would submit is an inappropriate reason and the second although more appropriate is invalidated as a short term tactic by the first.
Jeremy Corbyn began as a profoundly Eurosceptic politician as did almost all of the left of the Labour Party. Corbyn was first elected in 1983 when official Labour policy was to leave the then EEC without a referendum. Throughout the years he has tended to vote against Europe.
When he became leader he presented himself as Eurosceptic but pro Europe: a position which is far from uncommon amongst Remainers. In the campaign he suggested himself as 7.5 out of 10 pro Remain which again must be a common position amongst those who voted to stay, pointing to as it does the very marked problems with Europe and wanting to reform not leave it.
The criticism now is that this inadequate Euro enthusiasm failed to deliver the votes of the Midlands and the north especially on the east coast for Remain. The cry is that traditional Labour supporters were not told clearly enough that Labour supported Remain and had Corbyn done more the result would have been different.
The levels of arrogance and hubris in these suggestions are in actual fact breath taking. The large towns and small cities of the Midlands and north especially the north east have indeed been Labour’s strong holds. However, Labour does not own the votes of these people. Middlesborough, Hartlepool, Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Grimsby (to name but a few) are not the feudal fiefdoms of the local Labour MPs. At times, though it has looked as if they viewed them that way, especially as too many of those great towns and cities have been represented by MPs almost wholly based in London, with but a tenuous practical connection to their constituencies.
If one is to blame Corbyn why not blame Ian Wright or Melaine Onn (MPs for Hartlepool and Great Grimsby respectively both of which voted almost 70% leave)? In reality most people in those working class Labour heartlands decided to vote out and would have done so no matter how loudly Corbyn begged, cajoled or ordered them to stay.
It is very likely that Corbyn learned the lesson from Scotland which too many of his MPs (now only one from Scotland) have failed to learn from the Scottish referendum. That is that Labour appearing as side kicks to Cameron during the Scottish independence referendum cost Labour very dear at the 2015 general election. Corbyn’s more nuanced, lower profile and less strident nay heavy hearted support for Remain may help shield many of the MP’s whose constituents so ringingly rejected the EU.
This brings us to the second and main reason for Labour MPs to want to get rid of Corbyn now. They calculate that the new Tory leader (probably Johnson but do not discount Theresa May) will go for his / her own mandate with a general election within the year.
Many Labour MPs have long thought that Corbyn was unelectable and that he should be jettisoned before the next election with enough time to allow a new leader to bed in.
This may be a reasonable position and Corbyn has many voter unfriendly facets which may well be a turn of in for voters in many places. His opposition to Trident and general perceived lack of patriotism could cost dear in those sorts of northern seats (and elsewhere). However, whatever his problems and whatever the reasons it would be seen by very many Labour voters that the MPs who overwhelmingly supported Remain are getting rid of Corbyn because he was not Remain enough. In such circumstances it is almost inconceivable that the working class Labour electorate having just voted Leave would think this a good idea. Whatever Labour’s problems in any putative election this plan would simply magnify them.
Furthermore any leader popular with these rebellious MPs would probably be even more unpopular with those Labour voters than Corbyn. Whilst a new leader might be a bit more overtly patriotic and pro Trident s/he would almost certainly be a pro EU, social liberal, pro immigration, fiscal Brown/Blarite (ie neo liberal). That is exactly the sort of person who has led Labour to two successive general election defeats.
If Labour want to win again they need to stop and think carefully, very carefully about the sort of leader they need. Ideally they should be socially a bit more conservative than recent leaders, a proper left wing social democrat or socialist and now more than ever a Eurosceptic. That may not be especially popular with the activist base but is likely to be even less popular with the MPs. Furthermore it is difficult to think of anyone who would fit that bill apart from say Frank Field who is probably too old now.
However, until Labour grasp that nettle they are likely to have grave problems regaining power. Furthermore unless they realise that that is where most of the support is they are in grave danger of being eclipsed by other parties be they UKIP or a new grouping.
At this point ditching Corbyn for an heir to Blair (or Brown) would replace Labour’s 1983 manifesto (the longest suicide note in political history) as the daftest political act by the modern Labour Party. At the moment Corbyn is probably the best option they have and that for a whole series of reasons is probably why the MPs are so scared.