Huhne’s Thatcher attack looks like part of the long game

Leadership goal for Energy Secretary.

Yet more Lib Dems in the Sunday papers today. After Nick Clegg's Observer interview, we have Vince Cable making the Yes to AV case in the Independent on Sunday and, back in the Observer, Chris Huhne hitting the Tory right were it hurts: attacking Margaret Thatcher.

In fact, the latter column is a three-headed beast – Huhne shares a byline with John Denham and Caroline Lucas – but given that only one of these politicians is in the coalition government, the focus is rightly on the Energy Secretary.

This is what they/he said:

For those who weren't well served by the Tory 20th century, fair votes matter. They matter for the millions of voters who suffered the worst excesses of the Thatcher government, despite more than 54 per cent repeatedly voting against her.

For Peter Hoskin over at Coffee House, this is further evidence that Huhne is pitching to the left, while ConservativeHome's editor Tim Montgomerie takes on Huhne et al's contention that Britain is a centre-left country.

Huhne appears to be the one senior Lib Dem not going through the motions when it comes to attacking his coalition partners over AV: witness his repeated attacks on Baroness Warsi and his threat of action over George Osborne's comments on the cost of implementing the Alternative Vote.

Not for him the rather fake backwards and forwards that has characterised the disputes between Clegg and David Cameron.

For Jason Cowley, writing in this week's issue of the New Statesman, overall Huhne has played a smart hand – "as part of a long game?" – and "has the requisite touch of calm and arrogance required of a first-rate politician".

Cowley concludes:

All in all, he is well positioned to lead the Liberal Democrats as and when Clegg walks – or receives the midnight knock on the door.

Playing to the Lib Dem gallery, and irritating the Tory grass roots by picking out Thatcher for special treatment, won't do Huhne any harm in this pursuit.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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