The aftermath of the EU Referendum could not have been more catastrophic for Jeremy Corbyn. In the days following the somewhat unexpected defeat, the massive coup attempt unleashed upon him by Hilary Benn and other plotters has rapidly cascaded into the most bitter contest between the Corbynite faithful and less devoted members in the Labour movement.
With approximately 50 senior Labour officials, Shadow Cabinet members and junior ministers now having resigned, Corbyn was determined to defeat the rebellion - possibly seeing it as the climax of a long-planned movement to oust him by the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party), who have never truly endorsed him and have opposed and undermined him at every turn (including hostile briefings to the press and the leaking of planned lines of attack against the government).
Corbyn fiercely defended his approach and track record, particularly regarding the referendum campaign, to a hostile meeting of the PLP earlier this week. It was not an effective gambit. According to journalists outside the meeting, only two MPs stood up to defend Corbyn, while Alan Johnson, head of the Labour In for Britain campaign, savaged Corbyn’s involvement in it, and his lack of commitment on the campaign trail, demanding that he take responsibility for the failure to secure a Remain vote. Shortly after the meeting, Labour MP John Woodcock and a Corbyn aide had a bitter argument in front of journalists about the MP’s lack of support for Corbyn. This is unheard of in politics, to publicly blast fellow colleagues to their face, within earshot of journalists – it shows just how angry Labour MPs are with their embattled leader.
However, this is not replicated outside of the Commons. As the PLP sat to debate a no confidence motion in Corbyn, some 3,000 or more Corbyn supporters descended on Westminster in a Momentum-organised rally to demand that Corbyn was not ousted from office. Corbyn, flanked by his long-time ally and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, declared that he would not be forced out, to enthusiastic applause. In a sign of how damaging this referendum has been to UK society, even within this left-wing audience, a considerable amount of rivalry was apparent, with attendees freely displaying anti-Blairite T-shirts and placards, calling them “vermin”. There were also social media skirmishes between MPs, centrist activists, and some former Corbyn supporters on one side, and the remaining Corbyn followers on the other - with Momentum’s e-mail address launching a vitriolic attack against Jess Phillips, alleging her to be tied to “zionist” money. Momentum founders then claimed it was a malicious cyber-attacker who had hijacked the e-mail account and sent the hate mail. Phillips and John McDonnell then publicly attacked one another over Philips’ claim that McDonnell did not attend the Commons vote on a finance bill because he was attending the rally that was attacking her. This degenerated into a form of argument resembling that of children before Philips apologised. Yes, these ARE MPs.
The divisions that run deep within Labour were not created by the Leave vote last Thursday. It was merely the catalyst. There are also other issues. Angela Eagle, former Shadow Business Secretary, was reduced to tears as she explained her difficulty in attempting to discuss her concerns with the Corbyn office, a difficulty apparently encountered by a mounting number of MPs. Even then, Corbyn “failed to listen” and would not enact their advice. This appears to have been the final straw for Owen Smith, Eagle and Phillips amongst others. But this grandstanding by some MPs that have resigned is unacceptable. The mutineers have crippled Labour’s resolve and unity and plunged the party into the most intense civil war since the 1980s, when the SDP “Gang of Four” broke away, Militant ran rampant and Liverpool City Council launched a kamikaze resistance against Margaret Thatcher’s government. If it wasn’t for the massive disruption inflicted on the Conservative Party by the resignation of the Prime Minister, Labour would be finished as a party capable of fighting elections in the eyes of the public.
The saddest part of this story is that the hope Labour could soon return to power has recently become more of a reality. As part of the fundamental shift in politics following the Brexit vote, the polls have stabilised at level pegging for Labour and the Conservatives, just as the possibility of a snap general election becomes all but certain to happen. Labour stood ready to wreck the government in the aftermath of Brexit, but the party has instead decided to self-destruct in a dark coup against its leader, arguably motivated just as much by ideology as electoral survival.
Jeremy Corbyn did not deserve this fate, and certainly not at a time when the party should be united and ready to face the threat of a general election - preparing to defeat the Tory war machine, disoriented by its divisions over Europe and the catastrophic referendum result. But this is the outcome, and it cannot now be avoided. Corbyn is, perhaps fairly, likely to fight to the bitter end, as he has shown an increasingly stubborn resolve over his ten months in office. This will only damage the party’s electability further and undermine the efforts of millions of Labour voters and activists at a time when Labour messaging could be more identifiable, relevant and effective than ever. Even former supporters of Corbyn are attempting to convince the ailing leader that he cannot go on, with the Mirror’s headline being “Go now.”
There are wider failures in the party that need immediate attention such as the failure to effectively communicate a message, select an effective strategy, defeat negative imagery and effectively organise an inspiring, professional and successful electoral campaign. And these are the real reasons Labour is outmanoeuvred by its competition. But the party cannot move on anymore with Corbyn dividing it. The MPs who instigated this must be punished for their intransigence and we must listen to the old Labour voters as well as the new in order to win again.
As a staunch supporter of Corbyn to this day, I wish this had not happened and I beg those who joined this coup to look on their actions and ask whether it was worth it and what it has achieved that has been positive. I also congratulate and thank MPs such as Cat Smith and Andy Burnham who could have helped bring Corbyn down but chose to stand by their leader and his mandate at risk to their own careers to respect the wishes of party members.
But Jeremy cannot lead us. His campaign is running on empty and the pressure has become too much for him to run the party successfully. He needs to go. It is an ignominious and unfair defeat, not worthy of the Labour party. But it’s happened and we must move on now. Jeremy must swallow the bitter bullet, step down and leave the future of Labour to the next leader, one that can better unify the party. And he must go now, while there is still a party to leave. If he does not, nothing will be left to contest the next election. Nothing resembling Labour, at any rate.
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