It’s fair to say that we’ve seen an awful lot of upheaval since last Friday’s decision by the UK to leave the EU. The value of the pound has fallen, David Cameron has handed in his notice, and now it looks like we might see a new Leader of the Opposition before too long.
Jeremy Corbyn has seen the vast majority of his Shadow Cabinet leave their roles in an attempt to force him out of his position as Labour leader and was defeated by 172 votes to 40 in a vote of no confidence which took place this evening. But given that the MP for Islington North has been in the role for under twelve months, how come people are insisting that now is the time to go, and why are his supporters so vehement that he is the right man for the job?
He should stay
As his supporters are often keen to point out, Jeremy Corbyn was democratically elected as Leader by a huge majority. He received 59.5% of a vote in which his closest rival (and Shadow Home Secretary at the time of writing, Andy Burnham) received just 19% of the vote. Momentum, a pressure group which, alongside an influx of new members and ‘registered supporters’, was pivotal to this success, is keen to press home this point. Its members argue that his enormous mandate must be respected and that any attempt to remove him without his consent would be undemocratic.
Corbyn also retains the support of many trade unions (including the one fronted by a particularly vocal character called Len McLuskey who has called on former members of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet to be deselected as MPs). This is not insignificant. Though much is made of the fact that trade unions’ powers have diminished in recent years, they do still make huge contributions to the Labour party in terms of finances, as well as representing many party members.
Jeremy Corbyn is very different from many former Labour leaders in that he comes the staunchly socialist ‘Old Labour’ wing of the party. This one of many ways in which he is totally different to Tony Blair: a man who is generally labelled as a ‘centrist’. Many of the politicians who have resigned have been referred to as ‘Blairites’ (and far unkinder things!) and their ‘coup’ is seen by some as an attempt to pull the party away from the more left-wing direction in which it was heading. Some Corbyn supporters believe that the party needs to carry on pushing leftwards in order to make a real difference to people’s lives and that attempts to usurp their leader are nothing more than the opportunistic, career-driven actions of a group looking back on ‘the good old days’ in which the party won three consecutive elections.
‘Refreshing’ and ‘unconventional’ are words often used to describe Corbyn. He isn’t overly obsessed with his image and he seems extremely sincere when he speaks. These qualities certainly endeared him to the Labour membership, who believe he offers a breath of fresh air when compared to the other MPs which the party has to offer. Corbynistas would argue that the party doesn’t have another candidate in the same mould and that it would be a real shame to lose the services of such an honest and passionate politician.
One big argument in Corbyn’s favour is that now really isn’t the time. The vote to leave the EU has caused an awful lot of upheaval. David Cameron has been described by many as a lame duck – though he hasn’t officially left his job, he has lost an awful lot of authority and credibility and his party is in disarray as it scrambles to recover. Many feel that this presents an opportunity which the opposition should grasp with both hands in order to really lay out everything that they believe is being done ‘wrong’ by the current administration and to start to shape the debate around what happens next in our negotiations to leave the EU. To those who subscribe to this view, a leadership challenge is nothing more than a waste of time and can only damage the party’s credibility.
It’s time to say goodbye
Though Corbyn is reportedly still very popular with Labour Party Members, the opposite is true within the Parliamentary Labour Party, a group made up of all of the Labour MPs who serve in Parliament. It’s well known that Corbyn initially struggled to get on the ballot for the leadership election in which he was eventually victorious. This is partly due to his own political beliefs (as a remnant of ‘Old Labour’ rather than the ‘New Labour’ of Blair and Gordon Brown), but for many MPs his authority as a leader was a cause for concern then and remains so now. Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP for 33 years, but prior to last summer had never filled any position of seniority and was notorious for voting against the party line. Though he may have been tainted by these perceptions from the word go, many MPs seem to agree that his leadership since last September has been far from inspirational.
One key theme which emerged from many MPs’ resignation letters was that, despite being an extremely decent and principled man, Corbyn is not seen as somebody who can deliver a victory for Labour at a General Election. Polls report that, even amongst those who voted for Labour in 2015 (an election in which Labour was widely seen to have underperformed), Corbyn was significantly less popular than Ed Miliband, the previous incumbent. This has become a particularly thorny issue since last Friday as many people believe that a new Conservative PM may feel the need to ‘go to the country’ in order to secure the authority to negotiate Britain’s way out of Europe. It remains to be seen who would stand against the current leader, but a lot of MPs clearly believe that they have a better chance of winning (and appealing to those who support the party but are not members) under alternative leadership.
Many Labour party members are massively disappointed in the result of the EU referendum, and a proportion of them believe that their leader didn’t do enough to make his party’s position clear or to convince their supporters to go along with the party’s support of continued EU membership. Reports from a range of sources suggest that Corbyn and his Head of Communications (a journalist named Seamus Milne) actively made life difficult for the ‘Remain’ campaign and upon resigning, one former Shadow Cabinet member even told the media that Corbyn had refused to disclose which way he had voted. He had every right to do so as the referendum was a secret ballot, but this did little to dispel murmurings that he was, in fact, a ‘secret Leaver’. Though some of these rumours may be proved to be just that, there is a consensus amongst some members that Corbyn, despite being an effective campaigner, failed to led the Labour effort wholeheartedly.
From the beginning of Corbyn’s tenure, concerns have been raised about the team which he has been able to assemble to make up a Shadow Cabinet. Many who were considered to be the ‘brightest lights’ for the future of Labour (including Dan Jarvis and Chuka Umunna, who are now both being talked about as potential successors) were either overlooked or refused to serve under Corbyn, foreshadowing the damning vote of no confidence which was meted out this evening. Many feel that Corbyn’s original cabinet had a bit of a ‘B-list’ make-up due to its low number of mainstream, centrist participants (other than Hillary Benn and possibly Andy Burnham). Given this week’s raft of departures, the same people may argue that the Shadow Cabinet is now comprised of ‘C-list’ MPs, despite being hailed by Corbyn supporters as the “most diverse ever”.
– By Liam David Hopley