SEVEN right wing Labour shadow cabinet members quit yesterday, with more resignations expected, as a coup attempt got underway to remove Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
Labour MPs Heidi Alexander, Ian Murray, Gloria de Piero, Lillian Greenwood, Lucy Powell, Seema Malhotra and Kerry McCarthy have all resigned. This came after Corbyn sacked shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, one of the coup organisers, in the early hours of yesterday.
A motion of no confidence against Corbyn, submitted by Blairite Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey, is expected to be considered at a meeting of Labour MPs today. A secret ballot could be held tomorrow, but shadow chancellor John McDonnell insisted yesterday that Corbyn ‘wasn’t going anywhere, he will continue’.
McDonnell and shadow cabinet members Andy Burnham, Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry have given Corbyn their support despite the string of resignations. Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker has said he is considering his position.
Hours after Benn’s sacking, shadow health secretary Alexander, who joined Corbyn’s shadow cabinet last year, tweeted: ‘It is with a heavy heart that I have this morning resigned from the shadow cabinet.’
In a letter to the Labour leader, she wrote: ‘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.’
Trade union members on Labour’s National Executive are to said to be calling for unity and support Corbyn’s leadership. McDonnell told the Andrew Marr show yesterday: ‘Over the last 48 hours nearly 200,000 people signed a petition in support of Jeremy Corbyn.’
He stressed: ‘The people who are sovereign in our party are the members, it’s the members who elected Jeremy Corbyn and he’ll remain.’ McDonnell said: ‘He’ll replace shadow cabinet ministers. We’ve got no government at the moment. We’ve got to get the best deal we possibly can in Europe. The country’s in a very difficult position. Now’s the time for the opposition to hold together.’
He said he was confident Labour will win a general election with Corbyn as leader. Pressed, McDonnell said in the event of a new Labour leadership election he would not stand but act as Corbyn’s campaign chairman. Andrew Marr suggested to Benn that he had been leading a party coup. Benn responded that Corbyn ‘is a good and decent man but he is not a leader’.
He added: ‘At this absolutely critical time for our country following the EU referendum result, the Labour Party needs strong and effective leadership to hold the government to account. We don’t currently have that and there is also no confidence we would be able to win a general election as long as Jeremy remains leader. And I felt it was important to say that.’
McDonnell said he was ‘disappointed’ at the ‘divisions’ within the parliamentary Labour Party and the shadow cabinet but insisted the party would ‘come together’.