By Adam George
Jeremy Corbyn has renewed his Labour leadership mandate, winning 61.8 per cent per cent of the vote — an even larger share than last year. Corbyn managed to win 313,209 votes, to Smith’s 193,229. The left-wing veteran claimed a majority amongst all groups of voters: members, affiliates and registered supporters.
Although Corbyn was expected to reign victorious, the resounding nature of his victory has come as a shock to many. The first twelve months of his leadership have been clouded with conflict, coups and controversy. It is fair to say that the Labour party has been in turmoil, with acrimonious infighting becoming a regular event. It seemed that every week there was a shadow cabinet member stepping down, a prominent Labour figure speaking out against Corbyn’s premiership or an accusation of similiar nature.
Combined with the apparent “rigged purge” taking place, many commentators believed that Corbyn’s majority would be significantly less and his mighty mandate therefore damaged. It is unclear how many people the Labour vetting process actually affected, but it is believed that a significant number of members were left unable to vote. There were a variety of reasons given by the NEC for preventing members from voting. Some were banned for past comments made on social media, whereas others were unable to vote due to technical glitches.
Many of Corbyn’s allies believed that this was actually a “rigged purge” used in an attempt to damage Corbyn’s support. The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, accused senior figures of wanting to “quash Corbyn’s mandate”. Corbyn himself has stated that he would like to examine the cases of those denied a vote.
Mr Smith’s challenge as the ‘unity’ candidate had a shaky start when he had to fight off a rival bid from fellow MP Angela Eagle. While he was talking down Mr Corbyn’s abilities and record, he also suffered setbacks, such as his suggestion for peace talks with ISIS. But it was Mr Smith’s inability to significantly dent the leader’s support among grassroots party members that meant his challenge never gained momentum.
The result, greeted with cheers of delight from his supporters, now leaves Mr Corbyn with a difficult choice over whether to use his mandate to stamp his authority on the party’s direction or strike a more peace-making tone. Mr Corbyn has said he will try to build a new relationship with MPs, but before his victory was announced warned them they had “a responsibility to work within the democracy of our party and respect the leadership of whoever is elected.”
Corbyn’s victory speech focused on the need to build unity within Labour to defeat the Conservatives. The MP for Islington North said “things are often said in the heat of the debate on all sides that we later regret, as far as I’m concerned the slate is wiped clean from today.” However it still remains unclear whether or not the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will unite behind the controversial leader.
This idea, of loyalty, has proven an inflammatory issue in relation to Corbyn. Many of the mainstream media commentators have claimed that it is hypocritical for him to remove MPs from his cabinet for contradicting his positions, after he frequently rebelled against former Labour policy, especially during the Blair years. However, their rationale is misguided and defies itself.
Those making this case fail to recognize that it is likely Corbyn’s tendency to fight the party line contributed to him remaining a backbencher for over 30 years – rather than rising to the cabinet ranks. Did Corbyn complain about his omission from the inner sanctum due to his unwavering beliefs? No, he accepted it as a consequence of his actions, and Labour MPs should do the same.
As MP Andy Burnham noted prior to the result, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s (PLP) response to Corbyn’s election in 2015 was “sulphurous”. He insisted that a win for Corbyn should give him the right to lead “without interruptions, noises off and undermining” from the PLP. With such a resounding victory it would be morally and democratically erroneous for MPs to fail to accept the decision their party members have made.
Two of the party’s most prominent members, deputy leader Tom Watson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, used their conference speeches to stress the importance of gaining power and winning the next general election, statements interpreted as a disguised dig at Corbyn’s idealistic policy platform that many feel makes him unelectable.
Corbyn came under more fire last week after the conclusion of the Tory party conference for not immediately speaking out against their proposed immigration policies. Corbyn is believed to have been spending his week walking Hadrian’s Wall with his wife. This drew criticism on social media from many who saw this as cowardly. There is normally a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ among parties to ignore each others’ party conference.
Finally, Corbyn did break his silence and said that “Conservative Party leaders have sunk to a new low this week as they fan the flames of xenophobia and hatred in our communities and try to blame foreigners for their own failures.” This is a strong statement that shows Corbyn’s Labour party will not give in to post-Brexit pressure and scaremongering by the right-wing media.
Although Corbyn has managed to see off this leadership challenge it is clear that the fight is not over just yet. The next few months will be very important for the Labour party as it attempts to deal with the identity crisis it currently faces. There is still talk of a split comparable to the famous creation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981. This split was initiated by the “Gang of Four” who believed the Labour party had been infiltrated by Trotskyist factions. Hopefully the PLP can understand this was electoral suicide and not follow suit.
No matter what happens, it will be an interesting few months for the party. It is imperative that they try to unite behind their well backed leader and attempt to provide functioning opposition to this ever-increasingly Tory regime.