Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Why Blair won't be the next Ramsay MacDonald

Blair faces MPs' anger over Iraq say the headlines.

Will this lead to a catastrophic split within the Labour Party that will force Blair to bring in the Tories?


Highly Unlikely. Not far off impossible in fact. Look at this for a start:

Labour Majority 167
Conservative MPs 166

It is commonly accepted that a government is safe in all important areas with a majority of around 40 (the Thatcher government of 1979 was around this figure). This would mean that Blair would have to lose 127 off his majority, thus 64 MPs or would have to regularly vote against the government in a vote of confidence. This sort of behaviour would lead to loss of the whip and deselection.

How many Labour MPs are prepared to risk their livelihoods or their bit part on the national stage for Iraq? Certainly nothing approaching 64.

Leadership challenge

First thing to note is that this is not going to bring the Tories into government and so make Blair the Ramsey Macdonald. Off the top of my head the rules for triggering a leadership challenge (you won't imagine how hard it is to find) is for 20% of MPs to petition for it. This is in public. So that's 83 MPs.

Now these guys will not lose the whip, and they have less chance (although still a high one) of being deselected. They can also kiss goodbye to any career of any kind under Blair, and you would have to count out almost all the MPs who would be at risk from a serious Tory comeback - not far short of 200. Blair is still popular enough among natural Tories as to significantly shore up the marginals. It really doesn't matter if Blair turns off the Northern mill and mining towns as they are seen as safe Labour for ever. Also count out the payroll vote which is (counting out the MPs for marginals who are under-represented here) about 70.

So let's say that of the 413 MPs we have to count out 180 from the marginals (a couple of mavericks like Bob Marshall-Andrews notwithstanding) and 70 on the payroll vote, that leaves us a pool of 163. Let's also say that 30 MPs would sign a leadership challenge come hell or high water (an optimistic assumption), 5 among the marginal MPs. The challengers would have to find 53 (83-30) MPs out of 138 (163-25) - 38.4% of available MPs willing to substantially risk any future career.

No chance.

Even if this were to come about the unions would have to approve the challenge by a majority block vote (basically each union casting its vote for each member). This itself will militate against the MPs - as they know they will be unsuccesful. If Blair is not in a position to buy of the big unions, then he would have resigned long before.


Would he resign if 20% of MPs voted against him? This is the man who ran for office against his party and models his toughness on Thatcher. Although grappling with Blair's mind is harder than grappling with the mind of the average Labour MP or union bureaucrat, I don't find it likely yet. The man who won't sack Byers on grounds of machismo is hardly likely to sack himself.

This all being said, I hope to be proven wrong.


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