Today, following the confirmation that Theresa May will take office as the UK’s Prime Minister without a vote from the full membership of the Conservative Party, Jon Trickett, the Labour’s Party’s election co-ordinator and one of Jeremy Corbyn’s key allies, called for a snap general election.
While many, including prominent Corbyn supporter Owen Jones, lambasted the call for a fresh election, pointing to polling that shows Labour would suffer a heavy defeat in such a contest, Trickett’s statement is yet another example of the Corbyn team’s political mastery of the divisions within the Labour Party.
What these critics ignore or fail to realise, is that Trickett’s statement has much more to do with anti-Corbyn MPs formally launching their challenge – in the form of Angela Eagle’s leadership bid – than it does Theresa May’s installation as Prime Minister.
Even the prospect of an early election means that, just as they begin the much delayed formal challenge to Corbyn’s leadership, the rebellious Labour MPs can now be portrayed as actively hurting Labour’s chances against a rapidly unifying Tory party in an election, not in four years as was thought, but in potentially a matter of months. Corbyn’s allies can argue to the membership that they are preparing to fight the Conservatives in a new election while his critics are busy attacking their own side. Trickett himself has already dismissed Eagle’s leadership challenge as a “distraction.”
In the event of an early election actually happening, the pro-Corbyn wing of the Labour party are the ones who stand to benefit most. Even a catastrophic defeat might not result in Corbyn stepping down as Ed Miliband did in 2015. The loss could easily be blamed by his supporters on the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party were busy launching their rebellion as the Tories prepared to go to the country.
Moreover, the MPs that would be lost if Labour were to suffer a major defeat do not include Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott or John McDonnell, who all reside in safe London seats, but those who represent Labour marginals, such as prominent anti-Corbyn MP Wes Streeting. Losing a general election would remove a large number of those 172 MPs who expressed no confidence in Corbyn and make it much easier for him to retain control of the party at large.
In short, defeat in a snap general election would extend the Corbyn project for years to come, making Trickett’s support for a fresh poll a stroke of political genius.