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Theresa May has secured a strong position in the Commons, but it comes with a price tag

The Prime Minister's majority is larger than it looks. But it comes with a hefty bill. 

And we’re out! The House of Commons voted to trigger Article 50 last night by 494 to 122. 52 Labour MPs joined the SNP, the SDLP, the Liberal Democrats and Caroline Lucas in voting against triggering, including Clive Lewis, who quit the shadow cabinet in order to do so.

The scale of the majority – and the strength of the government’s majority in resisting every amendment put to the bill – makes it difficult for the House of Lords to put up much fight. But watch out for what they do on the rights of EU citizens. Harriet Harman’s amendment guaranteeing the rights of people already living in the United Kingdom was defeated in the Commons, but is supported by 80 per cent of the British public according to polling by British Future.

When the Lords goes head-to-head with the elected chamber, they tend to pick battles where they know they have the public behind them.

Back to the elected chamber: the large and stable majority for the government’s original bill attests to the benefits of Theresa May’s long strategy of wooing the DUP. Getting that party onside has been a major priority for May since she got the keys to Downing Street, hence their invitation to Conservative party conference and May’s silence on the ongoing RHI scandal at Stormont. That’s the difference between a fragile Tory majority of 16 to a healthy one of 32. Time and again, Labour’s amendments foundered on the rock of that alliance.

But that deal comes with one hell of a pricetag attached. One of the amendments defeated yesterday was the requirement that the principles lay down in the Good Friday Agreement be respected. The idea that the Westminster government is an honest broker between the two sides at Stormont, already pretty fragile, may have gone down with it.

Much of the focus today is on Labour and their difficulties reconciling their electoral coalition to Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s cause hasn’t been helped by an ill-judged tweet suggesting the “fight starts now”, when, by most standards, the fight was either on 23 June 2016 or last night, and was lost, either 52 per cent to 48 per cent or by 494 to 122. Lewis has traded his seat in the shadow cabinet for the affections of the party’s activists, and, more importantly, has blunted a Liberal Democrat revival in his own seat of Norwich South.  

There are many difficulties for anyone predicting the end of Jeremy Corbyn; not least that the 52 rebels are effectively a scale model of the PLP in all its ideological hues. That is not the basis for a successful leadership bid by anyone.

The reality is that the settled will of much of the PLP is that they had to vote for Article 50. Had the whip gone the other way, there would have been a considerably larger rebellion. In any case, what really matters – not just for yesterday but for our Brexit course in particular and the Northern Irish situation in general – is the de facto Conservative-DUP coalition in the House.

And that’s going to have far bigger consequences than any number of tweets by the Labour leader.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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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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