The big flaw in the idea of Jeremy Corbyn as caretaker Prime Minister – Brian Wilson

The trickiest part of the plan to thwart a no-deal Brexit is clearly “install Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister”, even for ten minutes, writes Brian Wilson.

Jeremy Corbyn's cunning plan to become caretaker PM would be seen through even by Baldrick from Blackadder
Jeremy Corbyn's cunning plan to become caretaker PM would be seen through even by Baldrick from Blackadder

Not since the heyday of Blackadder has there been so much talk of cunning plans. Sadly, there is nothing hilarious about their current context.

It is tragically obvious that MPs who repeatedly voted down the Brexit deal on offer, or something approximating to it, had given little thought to what might happen next, while fantasising about their preferred outcomes.

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The exception to this rule was the Jacob Rees-Mogg tendency who knew exactly the direction they were heading in as they repeatedly welcomed the unwary, short-sighted and cynical into the same division lobby.

Baldrick himself might have been sceptical about the latest cunning plan which is to install Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister for long enough to form an escape committee and offer a General Election.

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Both friends and foes can recognise that this is scarcely a formula for maximising support for the cunning plan. Or, as Baldrick once said: “It cannot be a cunning plan because we can see through it.”

The cart has been put before the horse. If there is realistic prospect of preventing “no deal” via a House of Commons majority in a confidence vote, then the duty of every supportive MP is to reach a consensus on the interim role.

Paradoxically, Jeremy could demonstrate statesmanship by recognising that obligation as discussions continue. On the other hand, if the whole thing falls apart around him, he will be judged petty and partisan. That should not be a difficult choice.

Whether this particular plan proves credible, it already has implications, not least for the Scottish Labour Party. In the light of this week’s developments, the behaviour of John McDonnell in Edinburgh becomes more easily explicable.

Getting the SNP onside was essential. And the inevitable trade-off was to send out messages about facilitating a second independence referendum which had thus become a pawn in another game. That should be deemed intolerable.

Whatever one thinks about a second referendum, a policy which contradicts the one stated by the Scottish Labour Party and its leader should not be overturned through an ex-cathedra statement by the visiting Member of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington.

I do not, as it happens, disagree with his conclusion but the process, or lack of it, was shameful. Richard Leonard, himself a creature of patronage from the same sources that have now shafted him, was left to make the best of it.

The “branch office” jibe against Scottish Labour was given substance by the behaviour of McDonnell and others who have treated it in exactly that way on this issue of great sensitivity and fundamental Scottish significance.

There is no perfect solution to the reality that Labour – and indeed the Tories – operate at both UK and Scottish levels, with views not always coinciding. However, the logic of devolution is that Scottish parties should have the autonomous status to make policy and, where possible, implement it.

This is not a view I reached in the light of this most recent mess. A decade ago, I wrote that Scottish Labour should head for Madrid and Barcelona to understand the relationship between the Catalan Socialists and PSOE, then seek to replicate it. They never did.

As an autonomous party, Scottish Labour should control all policy-making related to the powers of Holyrood. In the UK context, it should aim to be a partner in Labour governments – just as the Catalan socialists are in Spain – but with leverage over policy-making and terms of support.

If Labour is to remain a serious player in Scottish politics, it has to think radically about both perceptions and aspirations. McDonnell’s behaviour should kick-start that long overdue process.

As for the cunning plan, it will be interesting to see if it is still in play a month from now. Or maybe a week. I really do wish they – Corbyn, Blackford, now Swinson – had all thought a little further ahead.