Following the vote for Britain to leave the EU on the 23rd June, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised by Labour MPs for a disappointing campaign to encourage Labour voters to vote Remain. Despite the Labour party’s official position being Remain, many traditional Labour areas, such as Swansea, Sunderland and South Tyneside voted heavily for Brexit and many put this down to Corbyn’s lacklustre campaign, during which he attended ‘limited’ EU events and was reported to have dropped pro-EU sections from speeches. As a result, two Labour MPs – Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey - submitted a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. This was later passed by a secret vote of 172-40, which led to calls for the Labour leader to resign. Hilary Benn – the shadow foreign secretary – was sacked by Corbyn after it had been shown that he was planning a mass resignation of shadow cabinet ministers to force Corbyn to stand down and told him that there was ‘no confidence in his ability to win the next election’. This then triggered 20 members of the shadow cabinet to resign in protest, as well as several other MPs, totalling 63 resignations. However, Corbyn stood firm and said that he would not resign but would stand against any challenger in a leadership contest.
Anyone wishing to challenge the sitting leader of the party must have the backing of 20% of the 229 Labour MPs and 20 MEPs. Both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith launched leadership bids to challenge Corbyn, who was automatically included on the ballot paper without needing to be nominated by MPs. However, amid calls for there to be just one leadership challenger to Corbyn to act as a unity candidate, Eagle and Smith came to the decision that the one with the fewest nominations from MPs would be the one to pull out of the contest. Eagle who had just 72 nominations in comparison to Smith’s 90, subsequently removed her leadership bid and chose to back Smith. The ballot papers for this election have been sent to Labour members since the 22nd August with the deadline for votes being the 21st September. The result will then be announced on the 24th September. A recent poll conducted by YouGov suggests that Corbyn will win this leadership election with a landslide victory, having 62% of support with Smith having just 32%. This is even higher than in the 2015 election where Corbyn won with 59.5% of the vote. Regardless of the outcome of this election, the Labour party faces an uncertain future, as the past few months have unearthed deep divisions within its members. AE