Corbyn Is Re-Elected as U.K. Labour Leader, Urges Party Unity

  • Time to wipe the slate clean, Corbyn tells rebel lawmakers
  • Veteran socialist draws more support than when first elected

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K. opposition Labour Party, gestures during an event to announce the results of the leadership contest ahead of the party's annual conference in Liverpool, U.K., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as the leader of Britain’s Labour Party with an increased share of the vote and then urged the movement to heal its bitter divisions and unite against Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May.

Corbyn took 62 percent of the votes of more than 500,000 party members and supporters, according to the result announced on Saturday in Liverpool, northwest England, where Labour is gathering for its annual conference. His challenger, Owen Smith, forced the bruising election campaign after mass resignations by Labour lawmakers in the House of Commons from Corbyn’s team of spokesmen, known as the shadow cabinet, and a vote of no confidence in his leadership by 172 to 40. Corbyn had 60 percent support when first elected in 2015.

Speaking immediately after the result was announced Saturday, Corbyn called for an end to the splits and noted it was the second mandate he’d received in a year. He called Smith “part of the same Labour family” and said he has no doubt Labour can defeat May’s Tories in the next general election.

“In our party we have much more in common than that which divides us,” Corbyn said. “Let’s wipe that slate clean from today and get on with the work we’ve got to do as a party together.”

Polls and bookmakers suggested Corbyn, 67 would easily defeat his challenger as he retains the support of rank-and-file party members attracted by his “authentic” image and socialist anti-austerity policies. Lawmakers who pointed to Corbyn’s lackluster performance in the European Union referendum campaign and failure to effectively challenge the Tory government in Parliament were dismissed as “red Tories” and “traitors” by his supporters.

Smith said in a statement that he fully accepts and respects the result. “I will reflect carefully on it and on what role I might play in future to help Labour win again for the British people,” he said. He didn’t repeat previous statements that he wouldn’t serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, but he said he won’t stay at the conference for the leader’s closing speech on Wednesday.

Corbyn was in talks before the result was announced to persuade rebel lawmakers to return to his team but said he will not change his style or policies to address their concerns. What they’ll get is “the same Jeremy Corbyn who’s been through the last year, indeed the last 30 years in Parliament,” he said in a BBC interview on Wednesday.

‘Rally Round’

Jon Lansman, who helped organize Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, warned Labour lawmakers to fall into line behind their leader. “Disunity is not good for the party,” he said in an interview. “It would only be very inattentive people who fail to rally round what is clearly a united party."

“Now is the time to focus every ounce of our energy on exposing and defeating the Tories,” Corbyn said in his speech. He described the administration led by May, who took over from David Cameron after the Brexit vote, as “Cameron’s government repackaged with a new hard-right edge.”

The Conservatives lead Labour by about eight percentage points in opinion polls and Corbyn’s approval ratings lag behind the premier’s. An Ipsos Mori poll of 1,000 voters carried out between Sept. 10 and 14 gave May a “satisfaction” rating of plus 27 while Corbyn scored minus 31.

Corbyn attended 59 events during the campaign, including rallies in city centers of thousands of supporters. His team made 300,000 phone calls to Labour members and signed up 40,000 volunteers to support his leadership, he said.

Takeover Cemented

“Essentially, we’ve seen the takeover of the Labour Party, and this result has cemented it,” Colin Talbot, a professor of politics at Manchester University, said in a telephone interview after Corbyn’s win was announced. “The old membership didn’t vote for him. A lot of them will leave now.”

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, said that the result “will be greeted with utter dismay” by moderate voters. “It is a sign of Labour’s utter mess that an attempt to get rid of Mr. Corbyn has succeeded only in strengthening his grip,” she said in a statement.

Labour slumped to third place behind the Tories in the Scottish Parliament elections in May, and may now struggle to compete with the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party in northern England, Talbot suggested.

“UKIP will go hell-for-leather to recruit in Labour areas,” he said. “It’s the death of the Labour Party, similar to the early 1900s, when the Liberal Party effectively disappeared.”

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