LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC yesterday that he was ‘disappointed’ Angela Eagle had chosen to run against him and would fight any bid to keep him off the ballot paper.
He said: ‘I would ask her to think for a moment, this is the opportunity of the party to unite against what the Tories are doing to put forward an agenda that is different from the austerity agenda put forward by the Tories and gain a lot of ground.’
He continued: ‘If at the end of the day an election, somewhere, results in a different leader, so be it.
‘But I would be irresponsible if I walked away from a mandate that I was given and a responsibility that I was given. I ask colleagues to respect that as well.’
A vote of no confidence in Corbyn by Labour MPs last month was passed by 172 votes to 40. But in last year’s leadership election, Corbyn was elected by the wider membership on the first ballot with almost 60% of the vote.
If the National Executive Committee, the governing body and administrative authority of the Labour Party, says Corbyn would have to seek nominations from fellow MPs, as Eagle does, and he could not get enough, he may be excluded from the leadership race.
If that happens the party will split.
Corbyn remarked that times had changed since former leader Neil Kinnock faced a leadership challenge and had to seek MPs’ backing: ‘That was in 1988, the electoral college system has now been abolished, we now have a one member one vote system.’
Unite Leader McCluskey has already warned ‘that any attempts to keep Jeremy Corbyn, elected just 10 months ago with an enormous mandate, off the ballot paper by legal means risks a lasting division in the party.
‘It is time for everyone to commit to a democratic and dignified procedure as the only way to avert such a disaster for working people.’
Corbyn told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show the legal advice he had been given was that he would automatically be on the ballot paper in the leadership contest, without having to seek the backing of MPs – the majority of whom oppose his leadership.
His rival for the leadership, Eagle, would not say whether she thought Corbyn should automatically be in the contest – saying that was up to the National Executive which is meeting to decide on the issue tomorrow.
She said deputy leader Tom Watson, chief whip Rosie Winterton and Parliamentary Labour Party chairman John Cryer had all been trying to get him to recognise he had to quit, but: ‘He’s hiding behind a closed door, denying that this is a fact. That’s not leadership.’