No sooner was the ink dry on Cameron’s resignation letter than Labour did what the Left do best – descend into infighting. At the time of writing 12 Shadow Cabinet members have resigned.
Former minister Ben Bradshaw told the BBC that Labour faces a “wipe-out” in an expected autumn snap election if Corbyn remains leader. Hilary Benn has already announced he would not stand in any leadership contest.
Alexander stated in her resignation letter, posted on Twitter (obviously), that she was doing so with a “heavy heart” and that as much as she respected Corbyn as a man of principle, she did not believe he had the capacity to shape the answers the country is demanding, and that if Labour were to form the next government, a change of leadership was essential.
Benn pulled even fewer punches, saying there was “widespread” worry among Labour MPs and in the shadow cabinet over Corbyn’s ability to win a snap election in the wake of Cameron’s resignation. Benn stated “in particular there is no confidence in our ability to win the next election, which may come sooner than expected, if Jeremy continues as leader.” Benn told Corbyn over the telephone that “he had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party” at which point Corbyn dismissed him from the Shadow Cabinet. The relationship between Benn and Corbyn had been strained since Benn made an impassioned and widely lauded speech in favour of British military intervention in the Syrian civil war – openly in defiance of Corbyn.
It has been no secret that leading Labour figures had despaired at Corbyn’s apparent lack of enthusiasm during the referendum campaign, a claim seemingly supported by Labour’s embarrassing inability to mobilise its core vote in the industrial north. This is on top of long running misgivings within the Parliamentary Labour Party. Corbyn’s Labour did poorly during the Local Elections and is consistently on the receiving end of woeful approval ratings.
But it’s not as simple as that. Labour’s membership, now swelled with Corbynites, has a very different view of things. Corbyn has the support of the trade unions and groups like Momentum. Corbyn has said he’ll stand in any contest and is likely to win, possibly with an increased majority. Corbyn’s closest ally John McDonnell would almost certainly walk it however he too has removed himself from any potential contest.
However to muddy the waters still further Labour have to contend with the Brexit effect. Labour supporters who voted Remain, concentrated in places like London, Liverpool and Manchester, will be aggrieved at Corbyn’s awful performance during the campaign, and will question if places like Hartlepool and Sunderland can still be considered safe seats under Jeremy. UKIP have openly declared that they’ve set their sights on what they consider their new natural territory – socially conservative white Working Class northern towns. Nigel Farage’s party came a close second in many of these areas in 2015 and now, flushed with success and seen as winners, UKIP will be confident of snapping up to half a dozen seats next time round.
And it’s not just UKIP. The Lib Dems, decimated in 2015, will be looking to make gains at Labour’s expense among centre Left voters in the suburbs who are put off by Corbyn’s unreconstructed socialism but still can’t bring themselves to vote Tory. The Greens too gave a reasonable showing in Brixton, and even if they can’t take seats off Labour, they’ll force Labour to devote resources it can ill afford to fend them off. Regaining Scotland for Labour is still a distant dream, and what remains of Labour in Wales will be lucky to hold on to what they still have, facing there a pincer attack from Welsh Nationalists and UKIP.
The next 48 hours will be critical – without an anti-Corbyn figure to coalese around the coup will dissipate as quickly as it started. As yet nobody has come forward, but possible candidates include Dan Jarvis, the former solider and long seen as a future leader. Alan Johnson was pushed to stand last time round but declined, however he might fancy his chances this time. But with the party needing to gain over one hundred seats to even come close to getting a majority, leadership of the current Labour Party is hardly a coveted position at the moment.