Angela Eagle confirmed yesterday that she is to stand for the Labour leadership, insisting that Jeremy Corbyn has failed to lead an “organised and effective” party.
Speculation had been rife throughout the past week that Eagle, the former shadow business secretary, would launch a bid to oust Corbyn, who has suffered a rash of front bench resignations after the Brexit vote.
She made her announcement as deputy leader Tom Watson called off talks with unions aimed at resolving the stand-off at the top of the party, prompting a furious response from Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey.
Corbyn suffered an overwhelming defeat in a recent vote of confidence at the hands of his MPs but has refused to stand down, insisting he was elected by a clear majority of the grassroots party membership just ten months ago.
Eagle said she would “explain my vision for the country and the difference a strong Labour Party can make” when she launches her campaign early next week.
But Corbyn, speaking at the Durham Miners’ Gala, urged the party to unite. “I urge all my colleagues to listen very carefully to them [the unions] and indeed come together to oppose what this government is doing to the most vulnerable within our society,” he said.
His spokesman said the Labour leader had made it clear he wanted to work with MPs to carry out his role as elected leader of the party.
Watson announced that a planned meeting today with McCluskey and other leading Labour figures, aimed at ending the impasse between the embattled Labour leader and his MPs, would not go ahead.
The deputy leader said Corbyn’s declaration to continue “come what may” meant there was “no realistic prospect of reaching a compromise” over the leadership.
But McCluskey hit out at the move. “When the possibility of a workable plan had never seemed closer, Tom Watson’s actions today can only look like an act of sabotage fraught with peril for the future of the Labour Party,” he said. “I must clarify one point in Tom Watson’s statement – I made it absolutely clear from the outset of these discussions that Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation as the leader was not on the agenda.
“Mr Watson knew that, and it is entirely wrong to suggest that any public statement by Jeremy represented any change in the situation. This is a deeply disingenuous manoeuvre.”
Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said the party’s priority now “should not be to descend into civil war”.
“It should be to give the country some clarity and stability and get after this government because it’s causing chaos.”
More than 20 members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and a similar number of junior ministers walked out in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, after questioning his performance during the referendum campaign and his ability to lead the party.
The split has extended north of the border, where Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale said that Corbyn is “not competent” to do the job, but her deputy Alex Rowley called for unity behind the UK leader. Dugdale met a backlash last week from party activists backing Corbyn, who called on her to unite behind the UK leader at a speech in Edinburgh.