How to get rid of a democratically elected leader – advice for rebel MPs
First and most importantly, play the long game. Don’t jump in with some half-baked scheme like a mass resignation… and particularly don’t do it if you haven’t a plan as to what to do if the leader refuses to step down.
One, the membership is going to know that you have absolutely no respect for them … or for democracy.
Two, you will look very silly when you find yourself trying to justify your behaviour.
Three, you are dependent on the goodwill of your activists to get re-elected.
However, if you unfortunately do find yourselves forced into another leadership contest, whatever you do, don’t try to stop the leader being on the ballot paper by legal or any other means! And don’t expel or exclude members from voting on spurious grounds. These are a total godsend for baking in and increasing your unwanted leader’s mandate.
Of course, it is all to the good if you succeed in disgusting some members into resigning from the party but there is also the danger that more will be disgusted into backing the leader.
Over and above all this, there are two predictable consequences.
The first is who is going to be stupid enough to put themselves up against the leader in these circumstances? It is bound to be a second rate candidate who will be an embarrassment and will justifiably entrench the view of the leader as the best choice.
Secondly, resigning from the shadow cabinet leaves the space for the leader to appoint his supporters, and allow the ‘wrong’ sort of new-intake MPs to gain valuable experience of ministerial office for the future.
Finally, don’t choose a moment when the government is on its knees. You really don’t want anyone to be able to accuse you of putting your own interests before the good of the country. Even worse, you don’t want to be accused of trying to destroy the party rather than let the democratically leader lead.
So if that’s the wrong way, what is a more successful strategy?
First of all, if you stand back and analyse the problem dispassionately, you will see that there are only two routes to deposing the leader.
One is to induce him to stand down by bullying, misrepresenting, maligning, vilifying, denigrating, disparaging and smearing him and his team. You need to pick on everything and anything… be outraged, constantly outraged … magnify and blame the leader however ludicrous the suggestion. All the isms are good… sexism, racism, being anti-Jewish people … and don’t forget to smear his supporters with the same. Accuse the leader of having created a personality cult, a mob that frightens women MPs with their threats of violence or worse. Meanwhile, keep on antagonizing the membership – if they object (however passively) you can get them expelled or suspended. Ditto CLPs who vote in officers who are supportive of the leader. These can be shut down for any number of reasons with the help of existing councilors and MPs.
By the way, don’t forget to smear the membership as being looney-entryists who don’t do any work and are deviously trying to make the party unelectable.
Brilliant if you can use all your contacts with sympathetic members of the mainstream media to get them to jump on the bandwagon. This will of course be made all the easier by the natural inclination of the government’s supporters. The real humdinger is to get previously loyal supporters to turn on the leader.
However, there is a most important caveat. Do not let your chosen successor or his/her potential shadow cabinet members get pulled into this attack programme. They must keep their hands clean.
It is imperative to triangulate the ‘attack’ team with the ‘future leaders’ team. The first team should be the shock troops who will create the space in which the leader is wounded, undermined and discredited.
The second team must be more consensual and tonally emollient. As conflict flares, this group should move incrementally into the space opened up by the first group’s assault. They need to be pained about the disunity and the abrasive nature of the debate, but will acknowledge the need for it.
If asked about the leader, the ‘future leaders’ need to say how much they like and respect the leader but with great sadness, they cannot believe that he is up to the job. Again, this has greatest impact when it comes from well-known previous supporters of the leader.
But I said that there are two routes. The second is a real headache in terms of deposing a leader who won’t resign… and that is what to do about the majority of party members who support the leader.
You need to acknowledge that you are not going to convince them overnight that they were wrong. Be patient because over time, with the national campaign you are mounting, the atmosphere in the party will become increasingly acrimonious at branch and constituency levels.
Above all remember that the members are unlikely to accept a replacement for the leader, until it is demonstrated to the party members that he is unelectable.
But you can surely arrange that. Your press briefings and outrage will have made it clear to the electorate that it is not a party worth voting for, so numbers should plummet in the Opinion polling… and it should be little problem to utilise those local party members and constituency officers who backed the ‘mainstream’ candidate in the leadership contest. They are frequently those in positions of power, know their way around the rule book and procedure and can run rings around the new naïve membership.
Make sure that for local elections and (most importantly) by-elections, the candidates that are adopted, are as anti to the leadership and his policies as possible. Doubly humiliate the membership by getting them to work for the election of candidates who will do their best to bring down the leadership.
Either which way, this is a great strategy. If the election is won, it is in spite of the leader and if it’s lost, it’s the leader’s fault. It will be even better, if the successful new Mayor, MP etc can publicly snub the leader… superb anti-leader publicity and inviting the membership to feel really stupid for having backed the candidate.
So in summary, the job is to undermine and discredit the leader at all times, regardless of how mindless and unjustified the attacks but remember to keep the chosen successor away from the fray. On no account, acknowledge any successes that the leader may have. In fact, ignore him. Talk in public as if he does not exist, deny that he has any policies and suggest that the party is not opposing the government.
With regard to the membership… well they really don’t matter apart from turning them off voting for the leader. The more disillusioned, the angrier and the more disempowered they feel, the better. You want them to either turn against the leadership or leave.
Then as soon as you’ve got the party back, make sure that such a situation can never, ever, ever happen again.
A final warning, consider how you feel about the deputy leader. If the leader steps down, the deputy leader could argue that they are the legitimate leader. It’s what happens in the US when the President is assassinated and you don’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.
Oliver Tickell wrote way back in November 2015:
‘To understand is to resist
The first thing is for us all to understand what is going on. The rush to attack and denounce Corbyn is not based on anything he said. After all, what’s to disagree with?
It is not a sign that a debate is taking place in the Labour Party. The ferocity and intensity of the attacks is, on the contrary, intended precisely to prevent rational debate and forestall any reasonable discussion of the issues.
The purpose is simple. It is to brand Corbyn a softie, a cissy, an ex-hippy peacenik, unfit to rule, weak on defence, a risk to national security, a left-wing corduroy-jacketed beardie scarcely fit to serve as a humanities lecturer in third rate ex-Polytechnic University.
It is above all to present him as, and render him, unelectable – a man who can only lead Labour to abject failure in any future general election. And so convince the great mass of the Labour Party to turn against their failed left-wing champion and elect in his place an ‘heir to Blair’. Someone more like … David Cameron?
So first, understand. Second, don’t fall for it. Third, resist.
(Personal disclaimer: The blogger is a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and will continue to support him and his policies until such time as he freely decides to step down.)