Jeremy Corbyn could be succeeded by two “co-leaders” if he loses the general election, HuffPost UK has learned.
Under a confidential plan backed by senior party figures, the new job-share would feature one MP from a Leave-backing town and the other from a Remain-backing big city.
The aim would be to unite not just the party but also represent the country’s disparate areas, while underscoring Labour’s progressive values on shared roles in the workplace.
The joint ticket would also be gender-balanced to better take on Boris Johnson at prime minister’s question time if he wins a majority or clings onto power with a minority government.
Among those who could represent northern Leave areas are Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford), Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne), Laura Pidcock (Durham) Lisa Nandy (Wigan).
Possible contenders for the Remain-supporting big city half of the duo would include Keir Starmer, David Lammy, John McDonnell, Jonathan Ashworth, Dawn Butler and Emily Thornberry.
The UK Green Party has had two co-leaders since 2016, with Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley the current post-holders. Greens in Germany and the European parliament operate with two leaders, one male, one female.
But Labour, which is the biggest mass-membership party in Europe, would be the first major party in the world to propose a job-share premiership if it won a general election.
“The Greens make it work, so why can’t we? It would let us represent the smaller towns and the big cities with different voices,” one MP confided.
“It would get us away from the presidential-style of politics that has dominated British politics lately,” another added.
No party rule change would be needed for the job-share.
With the party focused on beating the Conservatives in the snap election, few will discuss publicly the possibility of Corbyn losing.
However, internal debate over the issue has been sparked by current deputy leader Tom Watson’s surprise decision to step down from parliament.
Although in theory, a new deputy could be chosen in the new year, some allies of Corbyn believe there is no rush and point out that the recent party conference said that the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) would undertake a review of the current role.
Other positions such as party chair and vice chair will also be reviewed, and it is possible that the role of deputy could be abolished completely. A series of vice chairs, representing men, women and BAME communities is one idea that has been mooted.
HuffPost UK has been told that Corbyn is expected to stay in post for several months after any general election defeat in order to smooth the path for a like-minded successor.
Senior figures in the party also believe that Watson’s shock resignation was partly designed to force both a leadership and deputy leadership election to begin as soon as possible if Labour fails to get into No.10 in the December 12 election.
Holding both contests at the same time is the traditional practice and one that saves the party huge sums in postal balloting and other costs.
However, allies of Corbyn say they don’t think he should be ‘bounced’ by Watson’s move and would prefer for him to stay on for several months, possibly until the party conference next September.
He could further promote some key contenders, including Pidcock, to boost their profile even further.
Some are determined to avoid the situation in 2015 when Ed Milliband quit immediately after his election defeat and the party had Harriet Harman as acting leader during the leadership election.
They have been studying the Tories under Michael Howard, when he stayed on for six months after his 2005 defeat to make it easier for a young David Cameron to establish himself and defeat favourite David Davis.
Left members of the NEC also believe more time is needed to make ‘Corbynism’ “irreversible” with further rule changes at party conference to embed member-led decision making.
However, some MPs believe that if Corbyn suffers a big defeat there will be huge pressure on him to resign quickly.
“He’d surely be toast, and it would be best for everyone to get on with it,” one MP said.
Let's build the future of our communities by the many, for the many pic.twitter.com/jRQSNTLpZL— Rebecca Long-Bailey (@RLong_Bailey) November 5, 2019
Although Corbyn would remain neutral in any leadership race to succeed him, one former MP claims that internal polling among Labour ‘moderates’ has found that a candidate backed by both Momentum and Unite could win by a large margin.
Many MPs and activists expect that the next leadership race would have to elect a woman, given the party’s failure to do so historically.
However, a co-leadership model could allow either McDonnell, Lammy, Starmer or any other male contender to step up to succeed Corbyn.
Long-Bailey sparked fresh speculation about her own possible leadership or deputy leadership ambitions this week when she released a new video and logo for the general election.
A key ally of McDonnell, she was also picked to stand in for Corbyn at prime minister’s questions earlier this year.
But Pidcock has emerged as a strong contender too, given a key role in the shadow cabinet and prime speaking slots at the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the election campaign. Unite the union could swing its weight behind her.
Rayner is another popular figure who has been tipped to step up to the deputy or leader role. A close friend of Long-Bailey, they are not thought to want to run against each other.
So far, only Dawn Butler has publicly expressed an interest in the deputy job that is due to fall vacant after December 12.
But there has been some disquiet within parts of the party about her remarks, and it is understood she will not be allowed to campaign for the job until after the election.
In a new Facebook post, Pidcock underlined her own popularity for the deputy post while pointedly stressing now was not the time to focus on the issue.
“I have been flattered to receive a lot of really lovely messages about the Deputy Leadership position. I am firmly of the opinion, however, that all of our focus right now should be on the General Election campaign and kicking this brutal Tory Government out of power.
“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to elect a Labour Government that would transform this country for ever and change peoples lives for the better within weeks of being elected. We have made an absolutely excellent start to this campaign. The right time to discuss our internal affairs as a party is when we have Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, implementing a radical programme for change.”