Brexit Vote Setting Off Infighting In Britain’s Labour Party
The outcome of the Brexit vote continues to reverberate throughout British politics. Already, of course, we’ve seen the outcome of the vote bring an abrupt and somewhat unexpected end to David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister, a move that could sweep pro-Brexit MP Boris Johnson into Downing Street. Now, there are signs that the vote is also causing discord inside the opposition Labour Party:
LONDON — It’s not just Britain’s ruling Conservative Party that is in turmoil after the nation voted last week to quit the European Union. The opposition Labour Party is restive, too, with festering criticism of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, coming to the surface.
Early Sunday, Mr. Corbyn abruptly fired his shadow foreign secretary — the party’s spokesman on foreign affairs — to try to head off an internal coup begun by some Labour members of Parliament disappointed with Mr. Corbyn’s lackluster campaign to keep Britain in the bloc.
The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, telephoned Mr. Corbyn to say that he and other key legislators had lost confidence in Mr. Corbyn to lead the party to victory in the next election, which could be later this year. Mr. Corbyn ended the call by firing him, Mr. Benn told the British news agency The Press Association on Sunday.
“Following the result of the E.U. referendum, we need strong and effective leadership of the Labour Party that is capable of winning public support,” Mr. Benn said. “In a phone call to Jeremy I told him I had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party and he dismissed me.”
Later Sunday morning, Heidi Alexander, who speaks for the party on health issues, stepped down. Up to half the shadow cabinet is considering resignation, according to the BBC. Mr. Corbyn faces a vote of confidence, which was called for on Friday, after the referendum, by two lower-ranking Labour legislators.
Mr. Corbyn and his allies are reported to be organizing demonstrations in his support. On Sunday morning, his office issued a terse statement: “There will be no resignation of a democratically elected leader with a strong mandate from the membership.”
In its Sunday editions, The Observer reported that Mr. Benn was trying to organize a serious move to unseat Mr. Corbyn because the political landscape had changed with the referendum vote and the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron.
A new Conservative leader, elected by the party, would become prime minister in the fall and would probably try to call a general election to secure a new mandate. In the view of Mr. Benn and numerous other Labour legislators who oppose their leader, Mr. Corbyn would lead Labour to a disastrous defeat.
Mr. Corbyn became leader after Labour’s loss to Mr. Cameron in the May 2015 general election and the resignation of Ed Miliband. A man of the hard left, Mr. Corbyn was opposed by the parliamentary party as he rose. Still, he was elected under new party rules that said anyone could register to vote by paying 3 pounds, whether that person was a member of the Labour Party or not.
Even before the Brexit vote, it was already known that the Conservative Party would likely be headed into the next General Election with a new leader due to David Cameron’s announcement that he would not stand for re-election at the next General Election. In part because of that, the election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader came with controversy from the start, largely due to the perception by many inside the party that Corbyn was too far to the left to make for an effective challenger to whomever would be leading the Conservative Party at the next election. Because of this, it is likely that there would have been a leadership fight inside both parties at some point over the next five years. What nobody anticipated, though, is that these fights would have to happen so quickly after the last General Election. Ordinarily, the next General Election would not take place until 2020, but it’s widely expected that a new Conservative Prime Minister would call for a ‘snap’ election at some earlier point in order to claim a mandate of their own. Realizing this, it seems apparent that Corbyn’s foes inside the Labour Party are seeking to undermine him in order to lay the ground for leadership elections of their own in the near future. All because of the outcome of the Brexit vote.