If Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn continues to stay put despite losing the support of his lawmakers, he not only risks splitting his party; he could leave the United Kingdom without an effective opposition for months.
Corbyn, an unreformed socialist, won his party’s leadership election last year with almost no support from his parliamentary colleagues.
His failure to persuade a larger share of Labour voters to follow the party line and vote “remain” in last week’s European Union referendum was the final straw for lawmakers who rightly fear they are doomed if Corbyn stays on as leader. Polls predict an historic defeat.
172 against forty expressed their lack of confidence in Corbyn on Tuesday. Most of his shadow cabinet walked out. Former party leaders publicly called on Corbyn to resign.
Corbyn ignored all this, insisting that he has a mandate from ordinary party members to carry on.
If he persists, Labour is almost certainly headed for another leadership election, which could take months to organize.
In the meantime, what happens to the party?
As long as dozens of frontbench positions remain unfilled, parliamentary work could grind to a halt. Questions would no longer be asked. Committees would be half empty.
The rebels, who are in the majority after all, could form a faction of their own and claim official opposition status, but that probably brings the prospect of a definitive split too close for comfort.
The Scottish National Party, the third-largest, has already, in jest, applied to be recognized as the opposition instead. Speaker John Bercow rejected their appeal but might change his mind if Corbyn singlehandedly slows down the business of his house.
Until that happens, the Conservatives — who aren’t exactly a united party either at the moment — will rule virtually unchallenged.