“Labour’s #Article50 peril”? No, Corbyn’s huge opportunity. He MUST take it.


The news media are today talking up Labour’s ‘peril’ because of the government’s ‘Article 50’ bill to set the clock ticking on Britain’s departure from the EU.

The danger

Much is made of the ‘quandary’ that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour faces because most Labour MPs and many Labour voters don’t want to leave the EU, while BBC News and others emphasise Corbyn’s decision to impose a ‘3-line whip’, meaning that all MPs are expected to vote in line with the official party position and the fact that some MPs are planning to rebel against that whip.

The basic facts are true, but just as the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ is supposedly a blend of the characters for danger and opportunity, the government’s panicked and poorly thought-out actions – combined, crucially, with the fact that the majority of the anti-democratic MPs who oppose Corbyn are among the most vehement opponents of Brexit – have placed in Corbyn’s lap an enormous opportunity.

The whip

According to the Parliament website,


The opportunity

The SKWAWKBOX has been advocating for some time that Corbyn should ‘withdraw the whip’ from saboteur MPs, up to and including deputy leader Tom Watson. The decision to withdraw the whip is the leader’s prerogative; essentially, Corbyn could do this simply because he chooses to – the only reason technically required is ‘the leader’s displeasure’ and, heaven knows, there are many Labour MPs who have given Corbyn ample cause to be displeased.

However, to do so unilaterally would be portrayed by the media as authoritarian and undemocratic. It’s likely that Corbyn, who has a deeply-ingrained respect for democracy, would wish to avoid that.

The precedent

In contrast, the penalty of a withdrawn whip for refusing a three-line whip is entirely normal parliamentary practice and nobody could credibly argue that Corbyn was exceeding his rights in doing so.

Any ‘chicken coup’ MP that decides to vote against the whip is basically baring his or her neck to Corbyn’s axe, should he choose to use it – and has no excuse if he does. He will be simply be acting in accordance with established precedent.

The message

Jeremy Corbyn is not lacking clarity on Brexit. He recognises the political reality that, for all the lies and nonsense used to achieve the referendum result, there’s no going back. MPs – Labour or LibDem – who talk about undoing the vote are not interested in getting elected. They are positioning themselves for other purposes, whatever those may be.

But ‘rebel’ Labour MPs – MPs who have never accepted Corbyn’s victory and have been determined to undermine him since his first win in 2015 – have been collaborating with media and right-wing interests by constantly muddying the waters, contradicting or questioning him constantly, while the media spins it as a lack of vision or policy.

Risk and reward

Now, by trailing that they are going to rebel against his whip, they have given him an opportunity to kill at least five birds with one stone:

  • show strong leadership that will be clear to the public as such, even if the media tries to spin it otherwise
  • remove some of the worst Labour MPs that have dedicated themselves to undermining Corbyn and demoralising those who support his vision for Labour and for society
  • send a message to those he chooses not to punish that they will ignore at their peril
  • show decisive leadership that can only contrast favourably with the dithering and cravenness of Theresa May and her government
  • remove or neutralise some/many of those preventing his vision – on Brexit and more widely – reaching the electorate

In addition, Corbyn may well have the opportunity to replace retardant right-wing MPs and even to bring a desperately-needed rebalancing to the NEC (National Executive Committee).

MPs effectively ‘expelled’ for this rebellion will be under pressure to go back to their electorate for a renewed mandate, whichever way their constituency voted in the referendum. With the whip withdrawn, they would not be entitled to stand as Labour MPs and their local Labour party would be perfectly entitled to stand better candidates against them.

It may well be that many would cling to their seats as independents, rather than ‘do the decent thing’ and turn to their electorate – but that would render them lame ducks and put their political career on a countdown to oblivion. Some, at least, may feel obliged to resign and either leave or stand as independents and Labour victories in those seats.

If any MPs on the NEC had the whip withdrawn, they would lose the right to be on the NEC, meaning that those on the Committee who respect the wishes of the vast majority of members could more easily ensure good left-wing candidates were selected for any by-elections. If Watson had the whip withdrawn, it would trigger a new contest for his deputy-leadership position and no candidate like him would stand a chance against the members’ anger.

Of course, it’s possible that some good MPs would feel obliged to vote against the whip as well. There have been rumours that the excellent Clive Lewis may do so – but he has said he will not vote against the article 50 bill, but will consider his vote on the terms of Brexit when he knows what those will be.

It doesn’t matter. Withdrawing the whip is entirely the leader’s decision. He can punish some and not others, sending an eloquent message to those who have spent the last year and a half trying to undermine Labour’s leader and most of its members.

If Corbyn has set up this situation, it’s a piece of bold political brilliance. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s played such a blinder. Or it might simply be chance. Either way, he has the opportunity.

Make no mistake, none of this would easy and there would be risk as well as reward – it would amount to a declaration of war. But it would be far better than the war of attrition that the Labour right will not stop conducting until they’re forced to – and Corbyn has a chance to force the issue.

He must take it, for the sake of his supporters, his vision and the people of this country desperately in need of a Labour government.

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    1. I am genuinely shocked how ignorant people are about basic democratic protocol.

      What do you think will happen if JC doesn’t respect it genius, you will have brexiteers starting a civl war in a second.

      No that, as you say would certainly be a bat shit crazy thing to do!

      We need to see clearly that this is becoming much bigger and dangerous then brexit alone.

  1. There are probably many of us who would be delighted if he took the route of withdrawing the whip from about 5 Labour MP’s, pretty sick of them still trying to ignore yet another democratic vote, but also paying lip service and more oft than not, saying nothing about the hell their constituents are going through.
    Jeremy won’t withdraw the whip, again for democratic reasons, the constituents voted them in, unless there’s local noise against them too.
    I’m still waiting for the punch line…….When is a democratic vote not a democratic vote?

  2. Those ghastly Labour MPs who will not unite behind their democratically elected leader should GO. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’ and by whatever means. We’ve had enough.

  3. Why is there no turning back on something that is suicidal for the country? What can be achieved? Gain a few UKIP votes?

    I’ve been supportive of Corbyn but I would be outraged if my MP went with him on this. I certainly would not be voting Labour at the next election and there are millions who would do the same.

    This is a recipe for Labour to become a fringe party and heckle from the sidelines as the Tories dismantle everything that Labour and working people have fought for over the last Century.

    If Corbyn can’t see that Brexit was a Tory wet dream to deregulate in order to line the pockets of the rich in this country then he’s a bigger idiot than the media make him out to be.

    1. Offer up a viable legal democratic alternative, there is the possibility of the legality of the vote being challenged in court, I hope that comes to fruition and another referendum is the result, in the absence of such a legal decision what is there that can democratically be used to circumvent the vote?? If we could just say na don’t like it then why can’t we say that about the outcome of a general election when the winning party received less votes than either yes or no in the referendum? the past two elections were again won on a barrage of lies, false statistics appalling rhetoric much like the EU vote. Where’s the outcry at the last election at the thousands of deaths due to the policies over the ‘elected’ Govt, it only becomes an issue for everyone when you know it’s probably going to affect you and your going to loose money or work longer hours, hell people still don’t believe the NHS is about to disappear! sod the EU vote get rid of the Tories. Yea I voted remain it stinks the whole political system in this country stinks! It’s not the vote out that’s the issue it’s who is in charge FFS

  4. Oh dear, I feel so sorry for the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, MPs, members and supporters, this is a nightmare. I’m afraid this is a no win situation for Labour. IMO, unpopular though I know it is, it would be best to allow Labour MPs a free vote so at least they can represent as nearly as possible their constituents wishes. I don’t really understand why Corbyn is risking even greater discord with Labour MPs and unpopularity with members and supporters with a 3 line whip. It just isn’t democratic to fail to represent the 48% at all and where constituencies voted clearly to remain I really think those MPs should be allowed to vote on their behalf against article 50. It won’t change the end result, has clear justification and is consistent with democratic representation. I’m not convinced bringing the discord in Labour to head now is wise. Though it is frustrating that rightwing Blairites are still a massive problem in Labour.

  5. The question you have to ask yourself is would you have written this article 15 years ago when Blair was leader with similar advice and would you commit NOW to write this article again in 15 years on an issue that will be whipped “irrespective” of who might be Leader then? If one cannot make that consistent commitment to both the past and future then it might be wise to realize that perhaps the Leader is absolutely right to be cautious and ignore this advice of removing whips from MP’s as some remember when the tables were turned and who knows what will happen in the future and whether we need good backbench rebels of the future protected by past actions

    As someone who led a Labour opposition on a Council and was a also a group whip my advice would be this:

    a) A three line whip on Labour’s amendments which are about process and improve things – see here: http://press.labour.org.uk/post/156404587259/labour-tables-targeted-amendments-to-article-50

    b) A three line whip on the substantive resolution, BUT ONLY if the amendments are passed:

    c) Only a 1 Line whip if the amendments are lost as that respects the vote along with the Conference statement but does not compel MPs

    This approach completely unites the party and we are not then the news story of the debate and it remains Brexit. Let’s hope everyone else sees sense

    1. Charlie, if in 15 years MPs are persistently undermining the party’s electoral prospects in their desperation to remove a leader, absolutely I would say the same. They’re exploiting or breaking every rule as well as behaving unforgivably – so any tool or opportunity that can be used against them is fair game. There is nothing ‘good’ about these ‘backbench rebels’, in terms of politics and democratic ethics.

      I think you’re often very perceptive but I think this is naive – they have no intention of being united, so if it wasn’t this they’d be exploiting some other excuse.

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