In Depth

Would Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn resign following election defeat?

The ballot can make or break party leaders

After all the election campaign speeches, column inches and television appearances, the fates of our politicians are sealed come results day.

Previous Labour leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband resigned their posts after poor election showings, while Theresa May showed us what happens when leaders do not duck out early - stumbling on despite taking a hammering at the ballot box in 2017.

Next week, we will find out what the nation makes of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn - and whether one of the two main parties be entering 2020 looking for a new leader.

Will Boris Johnson resign if he loses?

There are really two questions to consider here: will Johnson resign if the Conservatives lose the election and will he resign if he loses his seat?

The first issue is the clearer prospect. Johnson has billed the election as an opportunity for the British public to back his Brexit vision and give him the majority he needs to get his withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.

As The Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth notes, that means that “if Boris Johnson wins the most votes and the most seats but not a majority, he’ll still lose office. It is all or nothing for him.”

Forsyth argues that the Tories “have no potential partners anymore”, with the Democratic Unionist Party unwilling to do another deal, and no majority would mean no Conservative government - and no more Johnson as prime minister.

What about if he fails to retain his seat?

The picture is slightly more cloudy if Johnson wins a majority but fails to win back his own seat, in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

He won a 5,000 majority in 2017, but this time round pro-Corbyn activist group Momentum has “sent hundreds of activists” to campaign in the constituency and is coordinating a “targeted social media operation” aimed at swing voters, The Independent reports.

All the same, the PM is on course to hold on to his seat, according to YouGov polling.

But should that change, Johnson would have two options. The first would be to resign, triggering a leadership contest in the new Conservative government.

Keeping the keys to Downing Street would be more controversial, but not impossible. The nation’s PMs regularly sat in the House of Lords in the 18th and 19th centuries, meaning a peerage could be rushed through for Johnson. But governing from the Commons has been convention since the beginning of the 20th century.

The Conservative Party constitution says that the leader of the party “shall be drawn from those elected to Parliament”, but as the Institute for Government highlights: “How party leadership rules are interpreted might depend on the level of support the defeated prime minister retained among their MPs and party membership.”

No incumbent PM has ever lost his or her seat at a general election, but Johnson has the smallest constituency majority of any leader in recent times.

And what about Corbyn?

Labour does not look likely to win the election outright based on current polls, but might manage to get into government as the majority party in a coalition or through a voting arrangement.

According to the Daily Mail, Corbyn stepping down could be a precondition for talks between Labour and the Scottish National Party. So in the event of a hung parliament, it is not impossible that Labour could enter government without Corbyn in the top job.

But it seems unlikely that he would resign willingly after pulling off quite an impressive feat.

If Labour performs poorly, pressure will mount on Corbyn to step down after two general election loses.

However, Unite union boss Len McCluskey, a close Corbyn ally, has said that the Labour leader should stay on for a “period of reflection” if the party is not successful next week - leaving everyone guessing as to what the future will bring.

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