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Benn sacked, shadow ministers resign, Corbyn ‘going nowhere’: Labour in crisis

Benn sacked, shadow ministers resign, Corbyn ‘going nowhere’: Labour in crisis

🕔26.Jun 2016

Labour MPs began a grim war of attrition today in an attempt to oust party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The hard-left leader’s lacklustre contribution to the EU referendum Remain campaign has been described as the last straw, but behind lies the fear that a General Election may be called in the autumn and that Labour, in its present state of disunity, will be annihilated.

Months of suspicion that traditional Labour supporters in the Midlands and the north of England are turning to UKIP appeared to be confirmed by the referendum which saw a surge of support for the Leave campaign in working class heartlands.

There is a growing feeling that whoever takes over from David Cameron as Tory leader and prime minister will be forced into calling a General Election in order to acquire a mandate to govern, and if that happens in a febrile post-Brexit atmosphere scores of Labour MPs fear they will lose their seats.

The drama began to unfold after shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn was sacked in the early hours of this morning by Mr Corbyn following newspaper reports that he was leading a coup against his boss.

Mr Benn responded by calling on Mr Corbyn to resign “for the good of the party”.

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander followed Mr Benn down the resignation path, stating on Twitter that she didn’t think Mr Corbyn was the right person to lead the Labour party during the “unprecedented challenges” the country is facing following the decision to leave the EU.

Two hours later, shadow cabinet minister for young people and voter registration Gloria De Piero resigned. Ms De Piero said: “It is not an act of disloyalty to challenge the leader if you believe they are taking the party in the wrong direction.”

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, and Labour’s only MP north of the border, is now the latest frontbencher to stand down.

There are unconfirmed reports that up to half of the shadow cabinet and several shadow ministers are preparing to resign with announcements likely to be timed throughout today.

Labour MPs believe that Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle, Andy Burnham, Chris Bryant, Lucy Powell, Seema Malhotra, Ian Murray and Lillian Greenwood are all set to quit, possibly as early as today.

Labour backbenchers, notably Stephen Kinnock, began a tour of television studios this morning explaining why they felt Mr Corbyn should stand down.

Mr Benn, who has made it clear he will not stand for the Labour leadership, was sacked in the early hours of this morning following a report in the Observer that he was leading a coup against his boss.

Mr Corbyn told his colleague he had “lost confidence in him” in a terse phone conversation at 12.50am.

In a statement, Leeds Central MP Mr Benn said:

It has now become clear that there is widespread concern among Labour MPs and in the Shadow Cabinet about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of our party.

In particular, there is no confidence in our ability to win the next election, which may come much sooner than expected, if Jeremy continues as leader.

At this critical time for our country, following the result of the EU referendum, we need strong and effective leadership of the Labour party that is capable of winning public support so that we can stand up for the people of Britain.

In a phone call to Jeremy, I told him that for these reasons I had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party and he then dismissed me from the Shadow Cabinet.

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Mr Benn said “the right thing” for Mr Corbyn to do was to resign before Labour MPs consider a motion of no confidence which has been tabled in him.

Asked directly if he wanted to replace him as leader, Mr Benn replied:

I am not go to be a candidate to be leader of the Labour party and I haven’t taken the decision that I did because I want to. I took this decision because I thought it was the right thing to do because I, like many others, care about the future of the party we have devoted so much of our lives to.

Mr Benn said he had decided to speak out against Mr Corbyn because “we need strong and effective leadership and we don’t currently have that”.

He said:

I’ve been a member of the Labour party for 45 years. Like lots of people I’ve devoted a lot of my personal and political life to it and if things are not working then I think we have a wider responsibility to the party that we love to speak out.

There’s never an ideal time but it isn’t working and therefore I felt it was right to speak out.”

Ms Alexander told Mr Corbyn in a resignation letter that the country needed “effective opposition” to hold “an increasingly right wing Conservative party to account” following the Brexit decision.

She added:

As much as I respect you as a man of principle, I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding and I believe that if we are to form the next government a change of leadership is essential.

A senior Labour source told the PoliticsHome website that there would “most assuredly” be a number of shadow cabinet resignations throughout today as rebel MPs try to force Mr Corbyn to quit.

But a source close to the leader said: “Just for the record – Jeremy is going nowhere.”

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said Mr Benn and Ms Alexander would be replaced in the shadow cabinet and rejected claims that it would be difficult to find plausible candidates to fill the vacancies. The name of hard-left Hackney MP Diane Abbott is being floated as shadow foreign secretary.

Labour MPs will debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn at a meeting in the Commons tomorrow night, then vote on it on Tuesday. At least 50 Labour MPs are required to sign a letter demanding a leadership election.

One senior MP said: “It will be bloody and messy, but has to be done. The alternative is that we slowly bleed to death.”

However, it is still unclear whether Mr Corbyn would automatically go on the ballot paper in a new leadership contest. If he did, the widespread expectation is that he would win thanks to his continuing popularity among many party members.

A senior Labour source in Birmingham told Chamberlain Files it was inevitable that Mr Corbyn would be a candidate in any leadership contest given the support for him among grass roots members and the strength of the hard-left Momentum organisation which acts as a support group for the Labour leader.

At an event in London yesterday, Mr Corbyn acknowledged that some of his MPs “probably want somebody else” as leader.

But, asked by Sky News if he would stand again if a leadership contest was triggered, he said: “Yes, I’m here. Thank you.”

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