Shadow cabinet in Corbyn coup plot
Jeremy Corbyn faces the threat of shadow cabinet resignations unless he resigns as Labour leader this week, amid mounting anger over his failure to campaign harder against Brexit.
A shadow cabinet source claimed: “He will be out by the end of the week.” However, another senior Labour source predicted that the coup would fail because Corbyn will dig in and refuse to go, even if shadow ministers start resigning. It was said that any attempt by him to cling on will “destroy” the party.
Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary who fell out with Corbyn over bombing Syria, is “leading the charge”. Heidi Alexander, the shadow health secretary, was also said to be among those who could quit.
Benn has been consulting colleagues about approaching Corbyn to tell him his time is up and asking whether they will quit if he refuses to go. At least a third of the Labour leader’s top team are set to resign unless he goes first, senior party sources said.
MPs said a canvassing operation is also under way to test support for John McDonnell, Corbyn’s hard-left ally, taking the job if he is ousted. A source close to the shadow chancellor insisted that if it is happening “it is not with our consent”.
Moderates are trying to find a unity candidate, with deputy leader Tom Watson and Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, favourites for the role and Yvette Cooper also being mentioned.
Yesterday Corbyn insisted he will not resign and vowed to stand again if a contest is triggered — a nightmare scenario for many moderates.
Senior backbencher Margaret Hodge and MP Ann Coffey have tabled a motion of no confidence that is expected to be discussed at the parliamentary Labour party meeting tomorrow and could be voted on the following day. If that fails, rebels say they have the 50 names needed to trigger a leadership contest, with MP Barry Sheerman expected to stand as a stalking-horse candidate.
Sheerman, whose daughter works for Blairite David Miliband, refused to comment on the plan, urging colleagues to use the weekend for “serious contemplation” about the party’s future.
Last night Baroness Jowell, another senior party figure, called for Corbyn to go.
Neil Coyle, who nominated Corbyn for the leadership, said many party members wanted him to go, and he would back a motion of no confidence unless Corbyn steps aside: “If Jeremy can’t do the honourable thing and recognise he’s not winning support against a truly toxic Tory party, I’ll be backing the motion for him to go.”
Coyle told The Sunday Times: “If he was not prepared to stand up for our membership of the European Union and all the benefits that go with that, what is it he is fighting for? Because just saying the Tories are bad is not enough.”
He also urged his colleagues to think about the looming threat of a general election: “MPs need to think about elections, not selections.”
Coyle’s ultimatum comes after Frank Field, who also nominated Corbyn, said yesterday: “[Corbyn] clearly isn’t the right person to lead the party into an election because nobody thinks he will win.”
Hard-left activists have been targeting Labour MPs, who fear deselection at the hands of Corbyn’s supporters, in what moderates believe is a co-ordinated campaign of intimidation ahead of the vote.
The huge support in Labour’s heartlands for leaving the EU suggested that Labour could be reduced to just 75 MPs, down from 232 last May, one shadow cabinet minister claimed.
Some of Corbyn’s critics are arguing that the no-confidence motion should be delayed to allow the shadow cabinet time to put pressure on Corbyn to go with dignity. Others are opposed, saying it will give Corbyn’s “panicking” team time to muster support.
One plotter said that the different coup attempts were now “out of control”.
While moderates are split on tactics, they are united by dismay at the vote to leave the EU and say that Corbyn is partly to blame because of his unenthusiastic campaign for “remain”.
Some even claim his hard-left aides deliberately sabotaged the campaign. “They have already taken the leadership. They have now talked us out of the European Union,” a shadow cabinet source said. “They are fulfilling Tony Benn’s legacy bit by bit.”
MPs insist that their fury is shared by many party members, who have been contacting them to call for Corbyn to go.
He has compounded the anger with his reaction to the Brexit vote, initially calling for Britain to start exit negotiations immediately, before rowing back, then finally acknowledging immigration as an issue but offering no plans.
“Every speech Jeremy has made since the result has made this worse,” said one shadow cabinet minister who is poised to resign.
“There is a real danger of an early general election and the present situation is simply unsustainable.
“Labour has to prove that we have listened to what many of our voters have said. That is real leadership.”
The senior MP added: “If Jeremy tries to hold on by his fingertips he will destroy the Labour party.”
Corbyn was heckled and told to quit over Britain’s vote to leave the EU as he tried to address Labour activists at the gay Pride march in London yesterday.
The incident comes a year after the veteran MP received a rapturous reception from the crowd at Pride in the first sign of the support that would propel him to the Labour leadership.
Corbyn replied: “I did all I could”, before walking off, as activists shouted “coward”.
Former Labour general secretary Lord Collins witnessed the scene and rebuked Corbyn, saying he was “really disappointed” that the leader did not stay to answer the criticism.
“He should respond and not walk away,” the peer said.