Corbyn under pressure, half of Labour shadow cabinet set to resign after Brexit

Published 26.06.2016 23:07
Updated 26.06.2016 23:09
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on immigration and moving on after the EU referendum in central London, Britain, June 25.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on immigration and moving on after the EU referendum in central London, Britain, June 25.

The future of opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn looks shaky after two members of his top team quit. British media reported that others seem set to follow over his handling of Britain's EU referendum

After a strong vote for a Brexit in Labour heartlands, party leader Jeremy Corbyn was fighting for his future Saturday amid accusations that he had lost the referendum by failing to rally working-class voters.

Two Labour lawmakers have tabled a vote of no confidence for the opposition leader, reflecting the anger felt by many Labour deputies as the results of Britain's vote to leave the European Union began to sink in. "It's your fault, Jeremy. When are you resigning?" shouted one party activist as Corbyn marked Gay Pride in London on Saturday.

"I did all I could," he replied, according to a video posted by the activist Tom Mauchline on Twitter. More than a third [37 percent] of Labour voters defied their party leadership to back a Brexit in Thursday's historic referendum, helping cancel out strong support for the EU in London and in Scotland.

Media reports suggested that several other members of Corbyn's shadow cabinet would follow suit. There is widespread anger among Labour deputies.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-European, anti-immigration U.K. Independence party (UKIP), acknowledged the debt he owed them. "The election was won in my view in the Midlands and the North and it was the old Labour vote that came to us and we, particularly as a party, campaigned as hard as we could in those areas," he told reporters.

Corbyn has dismissed the vote of no confidence, but the issue will likely dominate a meeting of the parliamentary Labour group on Monday.

Any challenger would need the support of 20 percent of the party's 229 deputies and would then be put to party members, who propelled the veteran socialist to power only last September. Corbyn's left-wing views have enraged many moderates in the parliamentary group, and his lukewarm support for the European Union may now prove the final straw.

Polly Toynbee, a commentator in the liberal-leaning Guardian, said Corbyn's performance had been "dismally inadequate, lifeless and spineless."

"He came out too slowly, he was very half-hearted about his attempts to campaign and Labour voters simply didn't get the message," lawmaker Margaret Hodge, who tabled the vote of no confidence, told Sky News television.

Former deputy Frank Field, who backed a Brexit, said that nobody thought Corbyn could win a general election. "We clearly need somebody who the public think of as an alternative prime minister," he told BBC radio. Another Labour deputy, Graham Jones, said: "Vast swathes of white, working-class voters, particularly north of the Trent, turned their backs on our message and our leader."

Peter Mandelson, a former EU commissioner and close ally of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, said it had become clear during the campaign that "Jeremy can't cut it."

In a speech in London on Saturday, Corbyn blamed the media for focusing on the splits in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party in the referendum race.

But Robert Ford, a professor of political science at the University of Manchester, warned that the campaign laid bare long-running problems in Labour areas. Many voters have long felt abandoned by the political elite and left behind by economic and social change, he said.

"The depth and breadth of that feeling has taken a lot of us by surprise," Ford told Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding: "That's a huge problem now for the Labour party to deal with."

Corbyn's interventions were "the antithesis of leadership – it was pathetic", he said. "Corbyn probably is finished. I would be very surprised if this motion that has gone through didn't carry the day," he said.

The shock decision by the country to vote to leave the bloc, throwing the 28-member alliance into turmoil by becoming the first country ever to leave, was against the wishes of most Labour lawmakers. The outcome of the vote has triggered a slump in the value of sterling and U.K. stocks and unleashed a fast-moving political and constitutional crisis. Cameron signaled his resignation as prime minister after the results emerged on Friday, making way for a leadership contest in the Conservative Party.

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