I’m not normally one to comment on the affairs or issues of political parties other than my own (the Liberal Democrats in case you didn’t know), but the fallout from Thursday’s referendum and its impact on the Labour Party has got me and indeed the whole nation wondering just what the hell is going on. Whilst it may be fair to comment that media outlets, in particular the BBC is lending far too much airtime to the leadership crisis as opposed to the clear incompetence and ineptitude of leave campaigners, it is simply impossible to turn a blind eye to what I think is the unravelling and potential death of the Labour Party as we know it.
Last year saw a particularly terrible defeat for Labour. Admittedly it wasn’t as disastrous as it was for the Liberal Democrats but Labour lost 29 seats and with it its strongholds in Scotland. The fault of this loss was placed on Ed Miliband who, gracefully, resigned his post which led to the hugely observed leadership contest. Jeremy Corbyn, a back-bencher for over 30 years emerged from the far-left of the Labour Party to sweep to an overwhelming victory, securing more than 60% of the vote in the first round of ballots of the leadership election. It was hailed as Labour returning from the era of Blairite ideology that galvanised support from thousands of young people who had become disenfranchised with the elitism of Westminster politics. Not but only nine months later, Corbyn’s leadership is in dire jeopardy and this impact of his victory back in September feels a little hollow.
Corbyn never had the full support of his MPs. Instead he owes his success in the leadership contest to the party membership and the trade unions who secured him more than 200,000 votes. His ability to lead a successful opposition to the slim majority government run by the Conservatives was always doubted, but the two months of campaigning for the European Union membership referendum preceded by seven months of serving as Leader of the Opposition have, in my view and the view of countless others, cemented those doubts as 170 MPs supported a vote of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership.
In the days after the EU referendum result, there have been calls from all throughout the Labour Party, most importantly from Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, for him to do the decent thing as resign as leader, after what many MPs have called a half-hearted and unclear message in the referendum campaign, which has been constituted as one of the main reasons why the Remain side lost to the Leave campaign. Despite those calls from his shadow cabinet and his Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, Corbyn has refused to budge. More than 20 of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet resigned their posts, further calling him to “do the decent thing” and make way for a new leader. Today a vote of confidence was held regarding Corbyn’s leadership, which he lost 170 votes to 40 (with four abstentions).
Despite having the support of merely 20% of his MPs, Corbyn has again refused to go anywhere saying he will not betray those who voted for him in the leadership election and gave him up an overwhelming mandate to lead the Labour Party. Whilst I respect the scale of Corbyn’s victory in his leadership contest, I cannot accept that it is what he has described as an overwhelming mandate to lead the Labour Party. 9.3 million people voted Labour at the last election, which is a figure significantly different to the 251,000 who voted for Corbyn as leader. Only 2.7% of those who voted Labour at the last election voted for Corbyn as leader – that’s hardly an overwhelming mandate to lead especially in the face of utter rejection from Labour MPs.
The fact is Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has come to a premature end. He can no longer command the respect of his MPs and has been shown throughout the EU campaign that he cannot successfully engage with Labour voters to secure an electoral victory. If the Labour Party is to continue to be at the forefront of British politics, it needs new leadership from someone who has the backing of the MPs who also command a mandate from the constituents they represent. If Corbyn does not resign then Labour cannot be united and cannot form an effective opposition, let alone a government.
In the face of defeat we have seen politicians accept their responsibility and step aside to allow for fresh leadership: Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, (Nigel Farage) and most recently, David Cameron. If Corbyn cares about the future of the Labour Party he too will step aside to allow new leadership in order to ensure that his party can survive into this new era of British politics. I fear Corbyn cares too much about Corbyn-issues to do this, which was demonstrated by his attendance at a pro-Corbyn rally rather than following Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon’s example by leading their party and giving voters a clear message in the face of the Brexit vote.
Corbyn’s a principled man there can be no denying that, but his recent refusal to accept responsibility for his part in the failure of Labour’s EU campaign shows he cares more about his own political agenda than that of the wider Labour Party and its future.