British Labour Party Leader Loses No Confidence Vote
In the latest example of the political backlash growing out of last week’s Brexit vote, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, lost a no-confidence vote among Labour’s Members of Parliament, but he says he will not leave office even as his position seems to become more and more precarious:
LONDON — Britain’s political turmoil deepened Tuesday, with members of the opposition Labour Party rebelling against their leader in a no-confidence vote while the governing Conservatives started to joust over the selection of a new prime minister to replace David Cameron.
The turbulence — spawned by the country’s stunning vote to exit the European Union last Thursday — has already claimed Cameron’s political career. The prime minister is stepping aside just a year after he won a sweeping general election victory.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, could be the next to go following Tuesday’s mutinous vote among Labour’s members in Parliament. In a secret ballot, 172 members said they had no confidence in their leader. Just 40 backed him.
Tuesday’s vote is nonbinding, but it is likely to lead to a new leadership contest that could deepen divisions within a party already riven with fractures between its moderate and hard-left factions.
Corbyn has suggested he will run again — and he could well win, given his popularity with the rank and file.
But Tuesday’s vote shows that his own colleagues in Parliament want him gone. Corbyn’s detractors in Labour blame him for a lackluster campaign to keep Britain in the E.U. Although Labour officially supported the “remain” camp, Corbyn was a fleeting presence on the campaign trail, and polls showed that many Labour members were not aware of their party’s official position.
Corbyn — a north London politician whose views have been compared to those of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — was defiant after the vote, pledging not to step down.
“I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60 percent of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning,” he wrote in a statement released within minutes of the result being revealed. “Today’s vote by [members of Parliament] has no constitutional legitimacy.”
In a show of strength late Monday, the eve of the vote, up to 1,000 Corbyn backers rallied in the central square opposite the soaring towers of Westminster, Parliament’s home.
“Don’t let the media divide us. Don’t let those people who wish us ill divide us,” Corbyn told his cheering backers. “Stay together, strong and united, for the kind of world we want to live in.”
Corbyn’s predicament comes only nine months after he emerged from the far-left fringe to take ownership of a party that last governed under the more centrist Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Corbyn, who was never popular with the party’s lawmakers despite enjoying widespread grass-roots support, has faced dozens of defections among his top lieutenants since the referendum results.
But Corbyn critics say he was an ambivalent campaigner — at best — for Britain’s continued place in the E.U. Corbyn had long been a fierce critic of the E.U., believing it had become a tool of corporations and other vested interests.
A former member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, Chris Bryant, told the BBC on Monday that he believed the Labour leader may have actually voted to leave in the privacy of the voting booth. Corbyn’s backers have disputed that.
In a speech Tuesday, senior Labour politician Yvette Cooper — who lost to Corbyn in last year’s leadership contest — said she hoped he would step aside.
“I am very concerned that Jeremy Corbyn has no plan to reunite the Labour movement, no plan to respond to the deep and serious issues the referendum has thrown up, and no plan for a looming general election,” she said.
Although no new vote is planned until 2020, the unexpected referendum result has turned British politics upside down, and some are now advocating for a fresh vote once the Tories have chosen their new prime minister.
At this point, it’s not at all clear that there actually will be early elections, but that seems to be the conclusion that many political analysts are reaching at this early stage. If that happens, it appears that many in Labour don’t really have much confidence that a candidate like Corbyn will stand well with the general public against whomever the Conservative Party chooses as its new leader, a process that is likely to work itself out over the course of the summer with a final vote by Conservative Party member taking place some time in September or October. In that case, a snap election would most likely be scheduled for late 2016 or early 2017, but even that is unclear at this point.