U.K. Labour’s Corbyn Appeals for Party Unity After Failed ‘Coup’

  • Leader survives loss of confidence vote, parliamentary revolt
  • Turmoil threatens to split party as Eagle, Smith mull bid

U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn appealed for the party to unite in opposition to the ruling Conservatives at a time of “economic and political crisis,” and “heal the divisions” opened up by the Brexit referendum.

After a week in which dozens of his front bench team quit and he lost a confidence vote among his lawmakers by 172 to 40, Corbyn wrote in the Sunday Mirror that he has the democratic mandate of 60 percent of wider party members and that he’ll stand again for the leadership if challenged. The party membership has increased by 60,000 in the past week alone, he said.

“Our priority must be to mobilize this incredible force to oppose the Tories, and ensure people in Britain have a real political alternative,” Corbyn wrote. “The responsibility of our whole party is to stand up in united opposition to the Tory government –- and in support of decent jobs and pay, affordable housing, rights at work and an economy that works for all.”

Labour’s woes have left it unable to provide effective opposition to the also-divided Conservatives, mired in a volatile leadership election of their own after Prime Minister David Cameron resigned in the wake of Britain’s June 23 vote to quit the European Union.

Iraq Inquiry

Justice Secretary Michael Gove on Thursday torpedoed the then front-runner Boris Johnson’s candidacy by withdrawing his support and announcing his own candidacy. The three “Leave” campaigners on the shortlist have all said the next leader should be pro-Brexit, in an attempt to marginalize the two “Remain” supporters who are their rivals, including Home Secretary Theresa May, the favorite.

The Sunday Times reported that Corbyn wants to stay on until at least the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War is published on Wednesday so he can accuse former Prime Minister Tony Blair of war crimes, the Sunday Times said. 

A spokesman for Corbyn said he won’t comment on the report until it’s published. Corbyn said last year in a BBC television interview that Blair could “possibly” be tried for war crimes and that he believed the 2003 conflict in Iraq was an illegal war. “I want to see all those that committed war crimes tried for it, and those that made the decisions that went with it,” Corbyn said in the interview.

‘Bitter Divisions’

The party’s “bitter” divisions “can only be made worse by very angry statements about Iraq,” Blair’s deputy prime minister, John Prescott, told the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” program.

After refusing to quit amid the turmoil, Corbyn faces the prospect of a formal leadership challenge, with Angela Eagle and Owen Smith, who quit this week as his spokespersons for business and for work and pensions respectively, sounding out lawmakers about a potential bid. Those opposed to Corbyn seek to rally around a single candidate.

“I hope Angela and Owen don’t go into an election because that will take the fight nearer to a civil war,” said Prescott, who nevertheless said he thinks Corbyn would need parliamentary backers in order to stand again -- something which is up for debate in the party. Corbyn’s team say that as leader, he’d automatically get a place in the ballot. Challengers need at least 20 percent of Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament in order to stand -- or about 50 legislators.

“If Jeremy Corbyn does win, and he does try and remain leader of the Labour Party after another leadership contest, then the Labour party cannot function in parliament, it can’t function as the main opposition party and it will split,” Tom Baldwin, a former adviser to Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband, said in an interview on ITV television’s “Peston on Sunday” show. “Labour’s on the edge of a cliff.”

Former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, who himself survived a leadership challenge in the 1980s, said “there is no basis on which Jeremy really could or should stay.” Appearing on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show,” he welcomed new members attracted to the party by Corbyn’s policies, but said they face a decision: “they’ve got to then decide whether they are serious about putting their principles into power by democratic election under a leader that is credible in a party that is united or whether they actually joined up to a social protest movement that is content to complain and to turn up to the funerals of communities and industries while the Conservatives have yet more decades of power,” Kinnock said.

Corbyn received some support on Sunday’s morning politics shows, with two members of his team, Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner, sticking up for the mandate he has from the wider party to lead, even though neither voted for him. Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, also voiced his support.

“This has been a political lynching of a decent man, undermined, humiliated, attacked in order to push him out,” McCluskey said on the “Andrew Marr Show.” “Here’s the truth. It’s failed. The coup has failed. Jeremy Corbyn is made of stronger stuff.”

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