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Corbyn's best hope is a minority government, say backers

With Labour trailing the Conservatives in the opinion polls, Mr Corbyn's supporters said that — 'barring a miracle' — there was little chance of his party emerging with a House of Commons majority after the general election on December 12.

Article originally published by The Financial Times. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s best hope of becoming prime minister is to lead a minority government involving smaller opposition parties, according to members of his inner circle.

With Labour trailing the Conservatives in the opinion polls, Mr Corbyn’s supporters said that — “barring a miracle” — there was little chance of his party emerging with a House of Commons majority after the general election on December 12.

But in the event of a hung parliament, where no party has a Commons majority, Mr Corbyn’s backers think he has a good opportunity to form a minority government.

The hurdles are nevertheless formidable: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has insisted she will  not prop up a Labour government led by Mr Corbyn, and Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon has declared the price of her support to be a new referendum on Scottish independence.

And if Mr Corbyn did manage to enter 10 Downing Street, his leftwing programme to overhaul the economy by nationalising several industries and extending workers’ rights could be watered down by any parliamentary partners that Labour agrees to work with.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives currently have a 12 point lead over Labour according to the  Financial Times’ poll tracker, but the outcome of the election is highly uncertain, partly reflecting how Brexit is breaking down voters’ traditional party loyalties.

Mr Corbyn is insisting he is focused on trying to defeat Mr Johnson on December 12, telling the BBC on Sunday that “what I want to do is win the election”. “We’re not doing deals with anybody, we’re not forming coalition governments,” he added.

But three members of the Labour leader’s inner circle told the FT they thought it unlikely that the party would win the election outright.

One key reason why Labour could struggle to secure a Commons majority is that its longstanding dominance of Scotland has been shattered by the SNP at the past two elections, and Mr Corbyn is not expected to make big breakthroughs north of the border on December 12.

“We won’t get a majority, no, but unlike Boris Johnson we don’t need one,” said one shadow cabinet member. 

Another senior figure in Mr Corbyn’s team said: “For Boris Johnson to win he has to get an outright majority. For Labour to win we just need to deny him an outright majority.”

If Mr Johnson fails to win the election outright, but the Tories emerge as the biggest party, he could struggle to seal an alliance with another party in order to secure a working Commons majority and form a minority government.

Ms Swinson and Ms Sturgeon have both ruled out propping up a Tory government and Mr Johnson has alienated Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party with his Brexit deal.

So in a hung parliament, Mr Corbyn could get the chance to try to form a minority government.

One key figure in the Labour leadership admitted that closing the gap on the Tories in the polls would be “miraculous” but said: “The truth is that we don’t necessarily need to get a majority or even be the biggest party to get Jeremy into Downing Street.”

To form a minority Labour government, Mr Corbyn could try to woo smaller opposition parties and secure a working Commons majority by holding a new Brexit referendum: both the SNP and the Lib Dems are against the UK leaving the EU.

The Labour leader would have to decide whether to seek to form a coalition government or have a looser parliamentary alliance — similar to the “confidence and supply” agreement that former prime minister Theresa May had with the DUP.

The path to Mr Corbyn securing SNP support is clear: he could agree to hold a new Scottish independence referendum after the 2021 Scottish parliament election. He has ruled out a plebiscite in the early years of a Labour government.

Getting the Lib Dems on board would be harder for Mr Corbyn: with Ms Swinson refusing to put him into Downing Street, the Lib Dems could demand a change of Labour leader in return for an alliance. 

In theory Mr Corbyn, now 70, could step aside to facilitate Labour’s return to power. “If it’s literally ‘anyone but Corbyn’ you could see the parliamentary Labour party pushing someone else [to be party leader] like John McDonnell, Keir Starmer or Emily Thornberry,” said one Labour analyst. 

But if Labour increases its seats at the election, and the SNP  performs well in Scotland, Mr Corbyn might not need the Lib Dems to form a minority government. He could also seek the support of the smallest opposition parties, including Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

The challenge of forming a minority Labour government with other parties highlights how Mr Corbyn could come under pressure to drop or water down some of his most radical policies.

The SNP could potentially agree with Labour’s plans to lift public spending on education and health because an increase in England would translate into a rise in Scotland. The SNP could also back Labour’s plans to increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour.

But other Labour policies, such  nationalisation of several industries, might be dumped or scaled back.


This article was written by Jim Pickard from The Financial Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Article originally published by The Financial Times. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

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