Labour Party lawmakers are voting on Tuesday in a ballot of no-confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn after he rejected calls to resign, as the aftershocks of the Brexit referendum continue to wreak havoc across the U.K.âs political landscape.
At a fractious party meeting late on Monday, lawmaker after lawmaker urged Corbyn to quit, with only a few offering words of support. More than 40 members of his team, including more than half of the shadow cabinet, have resigned since Sunday. Margaret Hodge, one of the sponsors of the no-confidence motion, described the reaction of members of Parliament at the meeting as âunprecedented.â
âI couldnât believe the strength of feeling, the overwhelming rejection of Jeremy as our leader,â Hodge said Tuesday in a BBC Radio interview. âAnd the pleading with him that he should consider his position and go with dignity. No one individual is greater than the party. I think the referendum was a test of leadership and he failed it.â
The backlash follows Thursdayâs stunning vote to quit the European Union. Many of those who resigned have criticized their leader for running a lackluster campaign to remain in the bloc. They fear Corbyn lacks the powers of persuasion needed to win a general election that could happen sooner than planned after Prime Minister David Cameron resigned in the wake of the referendum result.
âThe writing on the wall is 8 meters high and if he canât see it, he needs to go to Specsavers,â Chris Bryant, who resigned from Corbynâs team on Sunday, told reporters, referring to a chain of opticians. âThis is a battle for the soul of the Labour Party.â
Another lawmaker, Ian Austin, said the party faces âan existential threatâ because of Corbyn and that criticisms were delivered by more than just the âusual suspects.â
Corbyn refused to quit, and after leaving the meeting he headed straight to the square outside the Houses of Parliament to address hundreds of supporters who had gathered there for a grassroots rally entitled âKeep Corbyn, Build our Movement.â
âWe donât need the blame culture, we need the unite culture of working together,â Corbyn said to loud cheers from the crowd, who moments earlier had been chanting his name.
Labourâs 229 members of Parliament will have until 4 p.m. on Tuesday to vote on the no-confidence motion, with the results due to be announced soon after. The vote is only advisory and wonât immediately unseat Corbyn, who was elected last year with landslide support among party members outside the legislature. Diane Abbott, a long-time ally newly promoted to be Corbynâs health spokeswoman, said itâs up to the wider party and not just lawmakers to choose a leader.
âI think itâs really sad at a point of great crisis for the nation that colleagues have chosen to stage a three-ring circus,â Abbott said Tuesday in a BBC Radio interview. âFleet Street and Labour MPs at Westminster do not choose the leader of the Labour Party, and the way to resolve this is to stage a leadership electionâ rather than a confidence vote.
A Labour leadership election can only be triggered if Corbyn resigns or if 20 percent of the partyâs lawmakers put their names to a letter backing a rival. The scale of the revolt against him suggests that the anti-Corbyn camp has enough support in Parliament to reach that figure.
But if Corbyn is one of the candidates in any new leadership election then the partyâs wider members will have the final word. Last year almost 60 percent of them backed Corbyn, a serial rebel who had been at the left-wing fringes of the party for more than three decades. The leaderâs office said he will stand if a contest is triggered.
âI think itâs disgusting,â Diana Blatton, 74, a Corbyn supporter and retired lecturer who lives in London, said in an interview at the rally. âThe traitors have been lurking around ever since he was elected and theyâve just waited for an opportunity and feel this is an opportunity they can seize. Theyâre totally ignoring what the vast membership of the Labour Party want.â
The mass exodus from Corbynâs team began in the early hours of Sunday when the opposition leader sacked his foreign-affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn. By late Monday, Corbyn had filled some of the gaps, but about 10 positions in his shadow cabinet remained vacant.
Corbynâs troubles have provided some relief for Cameron, who announced his own resignation on Friday after the failure of his âRemainâ campaign. His successor as Tory party chief and prime minister is due to be chosen by early September.
After welcoming to Parliament a new Labour lawmaker, Rosena Allin-Khan, on Monday, the premier advised her to âkeep her mobile phone on.â
âShe might be in the shadow cabinet by the end of the day,â Cameron said. âAnd I thought I was having a bad day.â