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What would the parliamentary Labour party look like after a landslide general election defeat?

Unless progressives save as many Labour MPs as possible, the hard left could still be influential after an election defeat.

The polls have narrowed slightly since last week, and weak performances from Theresa May over the weekend mean Labour’s slight recovery has consolidated to around 28 percent of the vote. Expect the "tightening" narrative to gain currency, as both sides have a vested interest in playing it up: the Tories want it to look close, to play up the possibility of the "coalition of chaos" alternative and drive up Conservative turnout, while the Labour leadership want to give their campaign some momentum.

In reality, though, barring a major political event, Theresa May’s premiership looks set to continue after 8 June 2017. The only question is how big her majority will be, and just how far back into the wilderness Labour has retreated.

It’s not just about how many seats Labour could lose, but how losses will affect the shape of the parliamentary Labour party and its capacity to recover and become an election winning force once again. Labour MPs with the smallest majorities disproportionately represent constituencies in the Midlands and in small cities and towns, as opposed to big cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester. The party faces a near wipe-out in the rest of southern and eastern England as well as its last remaining seat in Scotland.

If Jeremy Corbyn were to stand down in the event of a significant election defeat for Labour, any potential candidate would need to be nominated by at least 15 percent of Labour MPs and MEPs. By my calculation, there are currently 31 pro-Corbyn MPs re-standing at this election. Assuming the two MEPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn (and stuck with him after the EU referendum) are still loyal to that wing of the party, that makes 33 out of 249, or 13.25 percent.

It’s worth seeing what happens to this 33 in the event of a Labour defeat of various magnitudes. Here’s what happens to the PLP/European parliamentary Labour party electorate if Labour loses 20, 50 and 100 seats compared to its 2015 total of 232 (Labour actually starts on 229 due to a by-election defeat, a death and a suspension):

As the total size of the PLP gets smaller but pro-Corbyn MPs disproportionately hang onto their seats, that wing of the party gets bigger in relative terms. If the party loses 20 seats, the pro-Corbyn wing of the party rises to 13.53 percent of the electorate. The 15 percent threshold is reached when Labour loses its 50th seat (the Corbynites would command the support of 30 of the 200 electorate), or 52nd if we assume it regains Manchester Gorton and Rochdale.

There are attempts afoot to try to reduce the 15 percent threshold to as low as 5 percent (the so-called McDonnell Amendment), and some insiders have suggested Jeremy Corbyn will try to stay on as leader in the event of an election defeat to try to push such changes through the party’s conference in the Autumn. However, these attempts have met strong resistance - a motion in support of rule changes was rejected at the Usdaw conference just this week.

On the other hand, it’s plausible that a more moderate candidate could defeat a Corbyn "continuity" candidate in a straight fight following such an election defeat. But for now, the 15 percent threshold is an important one, and these findings illustrate the fact that unless progressives get out and save as many Labour MPs as possible, the hard left could still hold a lot of influence over the party even after an election defeat.

While progressives are looking ahead to 8 June with trepidation, fearing the social and economic consequences of a Conservative landslide, some are quietly hoping that a landslide defeat will at least allow Labour to change direction and elect a new leader capable of winning over new voters. Many who question Corbyn’s viability as a potential prime minister or dislike Labour’s stance on Brexit are thinking of sitting this election out or registering a protest vote.

However, in reality, a landslide defeat could end up strengthening the pro-Corbyn wing of the party as moderates in marginal seats struggle to survive. This isn’t about talking down our chances, but we have to be realistic: progressive politics will be best equipped to rebuild and hold the Conservatives to account if Labour holds onto as many seats as possible.

Charlie Cadywould is a researcher at Policy Network.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.