If Jeremy Corbyn thought that his lacklustre and, at times invisible, approach to backing the Remain campaign would go unnoticed, he is in for a rude awakening.
Following this morning’s shock result to leave the European Union he faces a furious backlash from Labour MPs who are incensed at their leader’s lack of commitment in supporting the remain campaign, heightened by his announcement this morning that called for the government to immediately begin the process of withdrawal from the EU.
A motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership has been moved by Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey, with a formal discussion to take place at the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting on Monday. This will be followed by a secret ballot on Tuesday. There are also plans to send the General Secretary of the party 51 individual letters in order to trigger a leadership contest; a bold move for a party that has previously struggled to replace ineffective leaders, case in point – Ed Miliband.
While however, MPs may be able to successfully trigger a leadership contest, any challenge will ultimately be decided by the party membership, the large majority of whom remain fiercely supportive of Corbyn. And then of course, there is the question of who will stand against him? There is no clear contender from the moderate wing of the party, although some have suggested that Dan Jarvis may be the obvious choice. Spectacularly there are also rumours that Corbyn may not put himself forward again and instead John McDonnell will look to replace him.
A leadership challenge at this stage has no guaranteed chance of success and could ultimately further exploit divisions within the Labour Party. But many within the PLP, who have for quite some time been quietly critical of Corbyn’s leadership, will recognise this as the golden, and possibly the only, opportunity to oust him.
Labour’s problems come from the left and the right of the party, both being at war with little common ground. A key complaint from the angry PLP is that Corbyn’s team isn’t competent and his performance lacklustre. While Cameron took responsibility for the campaign with grace, Corbyn’s poorly prepared TV interview on Cromwell Green looked amateur and weak. Recognising the holes in his team and addressing them and publicly committing to learn from the mistakes of Labour’s campaign, including his own, could take the sting out of many of the attacks. The problem for Labour is a reasoned halfway house won’t be enough to satisfy the PLP and is too much of a concession for the left. That probably means it is the right thing for him to do, of course.