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What matters for Labour is not the general election but what happens next

Jeremy Corbyn will have to decide whether, like some of his predecessors, to stay on - or resign immediately. 

A handful of recent polls suggest Labour is doing better than many expected at the start of the campaign. Whatever the reason, though, the gap between it and the Conservatives is still a yawning one. Bluntly, it remains the case that this election is not about whether Labour is going to lose, it’s about how badly.

What matters for Labour, then, is what happens next and that depends in part on how many parliamentary seats the party ends up with on 9 June.

Clearly, judging from its tax, spend, and nationalise manifesto, and from the study made of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign itinerary by the BBC’s Chris Cook, the leadership is hoping not so much to win over undecided voters as to mobilise its base sufficient to match or even surpass Ed Miliband’s 30.4 per cent of the vote in 2015.

But while that might allow Corbyn and co to mount a rhetorical argument in favour of keeping him in place, it’s unlikely to be enough (owing to the number of Labour-held marginals that will inevitably fall to a resurgent Conservative party) to stop Labour dropping below two hundred seats. And if their plan doesn’t work, and Labour’s vote share ends up somewhere in the mid-to-late 20s, then the party could emerge from the election holding just a quarter of the available seats in the Commons.

Whatever happens, Corbyn will have to decide whether, like some of his predecessors, to stay on or, as Ed Miliband did in 2015, to accept responsibility for the defeat and resign immediately. If he stays on, it will presumably be not so much because he plans to be in the job for another full parliamentary term but because he hopes his being there will improve the chances of his being replaced sooner or later by another MP from the radical wing of the party – something made more likely, though by no means certain, should the parliamentary Labour party’s left manage to change the rules to reduce the number of nominations required to make it onto the ballot paper sent out to its largely left-liberal membership.

There are, however, two problems with this strategy. First, the left is not as good at grassroots organising as many assume, and there is no guarantee that they will achieve that rule change at Labour’s autumn conference. Second, Corbyn could well face a challenge before then anyway. And if he is challenged over the summer (names bandied around include Yvette Cooper, Chukka Umunna and possibly Dan Jarvis), then no-one should take it as given that he will win – not after a damaging election defeat and a possible change of heart on the part of those trade union leaders whose ideology does not trump their concerns about throwing their members’ good money after bad.

If, on the other hand, Corbyn resigns immediately after the party’s defeat, it will be because left-wing Labour MPs reckon they can count on 15 per cent of their colleagues in the PLP and the party’s delegation to the European Parliament to nominate one of their number for the leadership. Calculations vary, but this is by no means impossible, not least because Corbynite MPs are slightly more likely to escape losing their seats than the non-Corbynite MPs who will continue to make up the bulk of the PLP after the general election. Should they achieve their aim, Labour’s fate will again be the hands of its membership.

Again, though, we should be careful not to assume the party’s grassroots will automatically opt for another left-winger – a Corbyn clone or mini-me. Members value their principles, and many will doubtless buy into the argument that their hero Jeremy was traduced by the media and stabbed in the back by his "Blairite" parliamentary colleagues. But research suggests that party members also care about power as well as protest, so they won’t necessarily relish the prospect of a further five (and probably ten) years out of office.

That said, if Labour members do vote for Corbyn or another out-and-out seventies-style socialist (as opposed to a Neil Kinnock-style "soft left", compromise candidate), then we need to contemplate the possibility (if not yet the probability) that the party could suffer a potentially fatal split as the moderate majority of the PLP looks for a way out of what by then will look to many of them like a burning building.

Inertia, of course, is a much-underestimated force, and behavioural psychology teaches us that loss-aversion is just as powerful. On the other hand, so, too, is the feeling that sometimes you have nothing left to lose. If that applies to a substantial number of Labour MPs, then look past the election for a moment because this summer, like last summer, could be a truly historic one for British politics.

Tim Bale is professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.  The second edition of his book, The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron, was published in September 2016 by Polity Press.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear