We all knew that there would be a political fall out in the event of a Brexit, but we never expected it to be this sudden and extreme. The Labour Party is crumbling before our eyes, disintegrating into chaos, and its very own leader is at the epicentre of it all.
In a dead of night development yesterday morning that shocked us all – particularly those of us still awake at 1.30am – Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sacked his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, responding to rumours that he was plotting a coup. Indeed, Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey have already submitted a vote of no confidence against him, which Corbyn rejected on Monday night at a meeting of the PLP. A vote will be held tomorrow.
By 6am, Shadow a Health Secretary Heidi Alexander had resigned, demanding fresh leadership. And by midday, Labour’s youth policy chief in the Shadow Cabinet Gloria de Piero had also handed in her notice, calling for fresh leadership following Corbyn’s “lacklustre” campaign to remain in the European Union.
The prominently vocal Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant was the eleventh and final Labour MP of the day to desert the front bench.
Today, well over half of the Shadow Cabinet resigned, leading to fresh suspicion that Mr Corbyn’s leadership will not last much longer.
The sacking of Benn and subsequent walk outs have been underpinned by a hostile discontent among Labour MPs, supporters and for that matter the majority of the Stronger In campaign at the way in which the party’s leader went about campaigning. Corbyn is known to be one of the most Eurosceptic Labour leaders ever to take office, and his half-hearted direction of the Labour Remain campaign was highlighted with the Labour heartlands of Wales and the North-East voting to leave.
Today, Chris Bryant suggested that it was likely that Mr Corbyn had even voted Leave, a stark departure from his party’s line and his public position.
Hence, Benn was certainly not alone on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning in saying: “There is no confidence that we will win a general election as long as Jeremy is leader”.
In tears, Angela Eagle admitted on today’s World at One programme that she had no confidence in Corbyn and called for his resignation.
Corbyn shook the hydraulics of Britain through his triumphant leadership campaign nine months ago. The outpouring of united support from millions of Labour Party members, many of them young people, was truly magnificent. But those who elected him were voting for a man of integrity, a man with rigorous beliefs and moral values, but what they’ve found is that it just has not worked.
It fact, it is hard to remember a time in the past nine months when the Labour Party has actually been united on a single issue – flash back to September 2015 when Corbyn sparked outrage at not singing the national anthem, and later that month the then Shadow a Defence Secretary Maria Eagle backlashed over his comments on nuclear disarmament.
Or in October when 21 backbenchers rejected Corbyn’s anti-austerity economic policy proposals, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s admittedly shambolic handling of the issue. Then of course came the vote on British air strikes in Syria, another instance when Hilary Benn operated on a separate agenda to Corbyn, a pacifist, presenting an image of a Labour Party torn at the seams.
However, it was an explosive mixture from the start – a party still populated by MPs immersed in New Labour policy, relics of the Blair and Brown Labour ‘heyday’, being infiltrated by the more radical socialist leadership of Corbyn and McDonnell. This new far-left leadership couldn’t have been displayed any more vividly than when McDonnell quoted Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book at the House of Commons dispatch box on November 25, leaving voters to wonder whether he can really be entrusted with control over the finances of our country, if elected in 2020.
And this is the major question – is the Labour Party really electable under Corbyn and McDonnell? After all, this scramble to oust Corbyn is all designed to achieve a Labour government in the next general election, although it may be that the country’s next leader is decided by 150,000 members of the Tory party in October, with the next general election taking place as planned in four years time.
It is important to acknowledge that, as John McDonnell put it yesterday morning: “Jeremy was elected with the biggest mandate of any British politician”. And cabinet members Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and even Corbyn’s leadership rival Andy Burnham have today expressed their support for their leader, emphasising solidarity for the electorate above internal party politics. They are echoed by 180,000 others signing a petition in support.
So Corbyn is supported by a vast amount of his party, but on the other hand has divided it also. Currently, I would argue that no the Labour Party is not electable. But as one member of the North Yorkshire town of Wetherby said on the news yesterday night: “He’s only been in job nine months; we need to give him time.”
The saying “in office but not in charge” could quite easily be applied to Jeremy Corbyn’s current situation. But he has said he’s going nowhere, and in the uncertain political climate of the present day, perhaps the topple of another party leader really isn’t the best way to harmonise a country that has been remorselessly polarised in recent months.
Words by Ewan Somerville