In the space of 72 hours, Jeremy Corbyn has seen over a third of his cabinet resign after sacking Hillary Benn for encouraging ministers to resign should the Labour leader ignore a vote of no confidence. Accused of sabotaging the Remain campaign, as well as of being an inept and unsuitable leader to guide the party to electoral success, the extent of the disintegration of unity in the party is nothing short of extraordinary.
The Labour party has been marred by in-fighting over its direction following Ed Miliband’s ignominious defeat to, what appeared at the time, a flailing Conservative Party. However, despite the leadership contest last year in which Corbyn won a landslide victory, the Labour parliamentary group appear unable to accept the overwhelming mandate handed to the Labour leader by the party members.
The fundamental problem with this attempted coup on Corbyn is that at its core is an inescapable reality that the entire fiasco is nothing short of a declaration of war on the party’s grass-root members. Corbyn received a mandate with such overwhelming support that the move to remove him can only serve as a testament to just how out of touch the current crop of Labour MPs are with their party base.
Contrary to the anti-Corbyn belief, Corbyn could not have arrived at the helm at a better time. With austerity crippling the working class – Labour’s traditional base that Blair moved away from – and the Conservative Party striving to create an economy whereby the wealthy pay little or no tax, but the poor pick up the bill for public services via cuts to pensions, tax credits, and welfare, Corbyn provides that voice that has been absent from the political discourse for some time.
The indisputable proof of this are the thousands who flocked to join the Labour party as Corbyn gained traction in the leadership contest, a reflection of hope and clear rejection of ‘Blairism’ and the ‘pragmatism’ that many Labour MPs accuse Corbyn of lacking. For all the claims that Corbyn is unelectable, that he is ‘old’ and ‘scruffy’ and ‘unpresentable’, the reality is that his presence has awoken and mobilised a section of society that is notorious for being politically apathetic and is capable of tipping the balance in any general election; the youth.
Moreover, Corbyn’s leadership signals a move to repair the damage done by UKIP to the party’s working class base. The move towards upwards social mobility by Blair created a middle class base which was eventually reflected in Parliament, leading to people abandoning Labour as MPs came to be seen as just that; middle class and out of touch with the working class.
UKIP raided this base, taking over four million votes in the last general election and leading the campaign that led to an historic referendum that will potentially see the UK exit the EU.
Not only does Corbyn finally divert the spotlight to the plight of working class, potentially challenging UKIP’s gains, his mobilisation of the youth is a welcome change in UK politics.
The failure of the anti-Corbynites until now to understand this new wave, to ride it and mould it into a campaign capable of winning an election, is politically and morally incomprehensible.
Margaret Hodge speaking to BBC Radio 4 yesterday said:
“I looked at the pictures of the demonstration last night and they were not Labour members. They were Socialist Workers and members of Momentum. These are hard Left groups.
The Labour party is not about looking after the few, it is about the many.
There are nine million people who voted Labour at the last election and it those people we have to serve.
MPs from all over the country, from every wing of the party, were saying that Jeremy is not working on the doorstep.
He should resign with dignity. This is in the best interests of the party and because of that it is in the best interests of the country.”
But what is the alternative? To return to the Blair years, a legacy tainted by the Iraq war and whose modernisation project alienated large sections of the party base? To Gordon Brown who, after years of backdoor manoeuvrings and pressurising Blair to step down, suffered defeat to a young David Cameron? To Ed Miliband who failed to capitalise on a flailing Conservative Party and saw Scotland abandon him for the SNP? To Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper who were considered favourites in a contest won by an outsider (Corbyn) in a landslide victory?
Moreover, Corbyn can point to tangible victories as Leader. Labour won the London Mayoral election. By-election victories suggest that Corbyn has indeed been well-received by the public and has not damaged the Labour Party in the manner he is accused of. The council elections were anything but disastrous.
So on what basis are Labour MPs truly attempting to oust Corbyn?
What are Corbyn’s options?
Diane Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
“What I would advise [Corbyn] is that MPs don’t choose the leader of the Labour Party, the party does.
It is really sad that colleagues are staging this circus. They don’t want a leadership election because they are not certain of winning it, but that is what they will have to do.
Fleet Street and Labour MPs do not choose the leader, the party does that.
This is about the party and the country. The most recent polls shows that 60 per cent of party members support him.
This current circus is not for the Labour party, a leadership election is inevitable and there is a very good chance he will win. The party will then want MPs to rally behind the leader. Party members are going to look dimly at people who have chosen to unleash this mayhem.”
Corbyn is a principled politician in the midst of a sea of unscrupulous political manoeuvrings. Labour does not need ‘pragmatism’. It needs a man ready to listen and understand the plight of those suffering under austerity. Labour does not need Tony Blair. It needs to disassociate itself from his tainted legacy. Labour does not need a charismatic leader. Labour needs to reorient its message to the working class who are flocking to Nigel Farage as he promotes rabid nationalism disguised as a sovereign immigration policy.
To remove Corbyn now therefore, would be nothing short of self-destruction. Corbyn may have lost support in Parliament. But he commands thousands of grass-root support, far outnumbering his nearest rival in any potential leadership contest.
Resignations from Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet:
- Lord Falconer, shadow justice secretary
- Chris Bryant, shadow leader of the House of Commons
- Heidi Alexander, shadow health secretary
- Lucy Powell, shadow education secretary
- Vernon Coaker, shadow Northern Ireland secretary
- Ian Murray, shadow Scottish secretary – and Labour’s only MP in Scotland
- Kerry McCarthy, shadow environment secretary
- Seema Malhotra, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
- Lillian Greenwood, shadow transport secretary
- Gloria de Piero, shadow minister for young people and voter registration
- Diana Johnson, shadow foreign minister
- Anna Turley, shadow civil society minister
- Toby Perkins, shadow defence minister