Sub-Editor of Naked Politics
A year ago, if you’d have said to me that Jeremy Corbyn was within touching distance of Downing Street, I would have laughed in your face and sent you back to continue doing whatever it is Corbynites do in their spare time (attacking female MPs and reporters on Twitter and so on).
But in the topsy-turvy world we now live in, Theresa May has gone from the Mistress Of All She Surveyed to a Prime Minister at the mercy of her cabinet: notionally leading a party that Mr. Corbyn has stripped of a majority. She reigns but does not rule, yoked to an office that she does not want and an address that she can’t escape.
Brexit destroyed the political career of David Cameron and has now done the same to Mrs May. By doing so, it has opened a path into Downing Street for Mr. Corbyn. But how can he pick his way over the wreckage of the May administration and into the highest executive office in the land?
1. Persuade the DUP to leave the Tories – PROBABILITY: LOW
The DUP’s £1.5bn confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives means that they’ve agreed to support them on the big votes: the budget, the Queen’s Speech, and on Brexit legislation.
Even without this deal, it would be a cold day in hell before DUP leader Arlene Foster let Mr. Corbyn walk past her into number 10. The Democratic Unionist Party are staunch Unionists (the clue is in the name) and are at daggers drawn with Mr. Corbyn over his sympathies for Sinn Féin, who are Irish Nationalists. They have said that they will support Mrs May’s government “For as long as Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party”.
2. Wait for the autumn budget – PROBABILITY: LOW
The government may have passed the Queen’s Speech with a narrow majority of 14, but the Autumn Budget looms balefully on the horizon like a comet. Governments can go on after losing votes; the dying years of John Major’s premiership lurched from defeat to defeat before finally being put out of its misery in 1997 by a certain Mr. Tony Blair.
However a budget defeat has only happened twice in history and both times the government resigned. For if it could not carry out the most basic of requirements: passing the financial measures necessary to fund the apparatus of the state, how could it have a hope in hell of passing anything else?
The DUP have agreed to support the Conservatives on budgets. But what if they did not? Or if Tory MPs rebelled? If this happened, constitutionally speaking Her Majesty the Queen would be forced to call on Jeremy Corbyn to form a government. If he was then unable to get a motion of confidence past the Commons, another election would need to be called.
3. Wait for the Tories to declare war on each other – PROBABILITY: HIGH
‘Autocracy tempered by regicide’ is how the Conservative Party has been described, and the recent mind-boggling posturing by the Cabinet has done nothing to prove it wrong. One week Boris Johnson was going to challenge Mrs May and become interim ‘Brexit’ Prime Minister, the very next week it was Philip Hammond and the week after that, David ‘Double D’ Davis. Andrea Leadsom seemed to think that the voices in her head were her ‘many friends’ who wanted her to run, and social media lost its head completely and threw Jacob Rees Mogg’s name into the ring. As the Conservative Party Conference approaches, the threat of a leadership challenge grows.
The problem with this is that there is no heir apparent. If the Parliamentary party could decide amongst themselves who the next leader should be, they could nominate only this person. By virtue of being the only entrant, that person would be appointed leader of the party without a messy contest and thereby be invited by the Queen to become her Prime Minister.
But there’s more chance of Mrs May growing wings and flapping out of Downing Street like a bat. Cabinet members are already briefing against each other to the press, but in a leadership contest? Chaos would ensue.
Total war would be declared between Remainers and Leavers, hard right and centre right, populists (ahem, Mr. Johnson) and serious politicians. In what is already a weakened minority government, this would mean that no one person would be able to command the confidence of the Commons. The Queen could then be forced to invite Mr. Corbyn to try to form a government.
4. Force a defeat on the Great Repeal Bill – PROBABILITY: MEDIUM
The Great Repeal Bill is also a major test. There is no majority in the Conservative Party for the bill as it stands, Labour has come out condemning its exclusion of the human rights charter and inclusion of so-called ‘Henry VIII clauses’, and has also joined the SNP and Plaid Cymru in sabre rattling over the bill’s omission of any provisions for devolution, while the Liberal Democrats aren’t showing any signs of shifting from their ‘stop Brexit’ stance.
The Great Repeal Bill is unlikely to pass unaltered, with Labour and others tabling amendments aimed at securing each part of Brexit they want. Single market membership? EU citizens’ rights? Staying in the customs union? Take your pick! All Labour has to do is choose an issue that seven Conservative MPs agree on, and they could get their amendments through. This has been demonstrated by Labour MP Stella Creasy forcing the government to provide free abortions to women in Northern Ireland, and Diana Johnson strong-arming Mrs May into establishing an inquiry into the tainted blood scandal.
Even if the Repeal Bill emerges from its experience in the Commons looking nothing like how it went in, that would still be a win for this weakened government. However there is a strong chance that it never emerges at all. Conservative MPs were never going to back amendments on a Queen’s Speech, even if they agreed with them, as it could be tantamount to a vote of no confidence in their government. But Brexit is a highly emotive issue that would lead to MPs listening to their hearts rather than to their party whips. If the Great Repeal Bill fails then it would probably lead to the government’s fall.
This would – you guessed it! – lead to the Queen being forced to invite Mr. Corbyn to try to form a government, or an election being called.
5. Wait for an election in two years – PROBABILITY: HIGH
Mr. Corbyn could simply sit tight, hope that his popularity holds, and wait for another election. Everybody basically knows that there is going be one after the Brexit process is completed in two years time and polls currently show that Labour is slightly ahead. Of course, the Daily Mirror’s horoscope has been more accurate recently than polls, but Survation were the only ones to correctly predict a hung parliament and they have a Labour lead. So does YouGov, which was also predicting a hung parliament for most of the campaign period (even though they wimped out at the last minute).
Mr. Corbyn does not need an outright majority in any case, he just needs to win seven or eight more seats off of the Conservatives. Provided that the rest of the progressive parties retain their seats, a Labour-led progressive alliance could then govern Britain, though of course this would be prey to most of the threats listed above.