In Brief

Jeremy Corbyn leadership crisis: Will Labour split?

Stand-off over fate of leader could turn into permanent rift – and perhaps the end of the party

Political experts are predicting a divide in the Labour Party as it faces one of its biggest crises in its 116-year history.

Jeremy Corbyn is preparing for a leadership challenge following mass resignations from the shadow cabinet and a no confidence vote from three-quarters of his MPs.

Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pension secretary, will stand for election after Angela Eagle dropped out of the running, but his chances of beating Corbyn are not looking great.

Tens of thousands of new supporters, many believed to be Corbyn supporters, are expected to register to vote in a narrow 48-hour window which closes at 5pm today. The party leader is the bookmakers' favourite to win and the latest polls suggest his popularity has grown among grassroots members.

But if Corbyn stays, commentators say the Labour Party could well split.

Is the threat of a Labour split serious?

Yes. Earlier this month, The Independent reported that senior Labour officials were preparing in earnest for a division, scrambling to find out who "owns" the party's name and its premises. One official told the newspaper: "Who owns the logo and the headquarters? Does it all belong to the leader, as a sort of head of the family? Or the general secretary? Or the national executive? You would think that this had been settled after the last split [in 1981], but it wasn't."

Professor Tim Bale, of Queen Mary University's politics department, told the London Evening Standard he gives the party an 80 to 90 per cent chance of splitting if Corbyn wins a second leadership election.

One of the party's biggest individual donors, Assem Allam, has offered to back MPs who choose to defect and set up a new party – just as the so-called "Gang of Four" did in 1981, creating the Social Democratic Party.

How might a split happen?

More than 170 Labour MPs say they have no confidence in Corbyn as leader. If they choose to do so, they can simply form their own grouping in parliament, without a formal split from the party, and argue they are the official opposition, says the Standard.

Janan Ganesh, in the Financial Times, proposes something more radical: the 172 MPs should form a new, pro-European party and merge with Lib Dems. Even if their leader, Tim Farron, and his MPs stayed separate, the new party would be by far the biggest in parliament after the Tories, granting it opposition status.

If, as it seems possible, the rump of the party MPs still loyal to Corbyn was less than the SNP's 54, Labour would be finished.

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