Tom Peterkin: Labour's own-goal specialist plays for extra time

THE longer Corbyn defies his MPs, the less chance his party has of finding its way back to power, says Tom Peterkin

Jeremy Corbyn leaving his house yesterday. Most of his MPs wish that he would also leave the leadership of their party  but he is determined to hang on, even at the risk of a split. Picture: PA

A Conservative Prime Minister has announced his resignation having lost a referendum in the most humiliating fashion imaginable. His wounded party faces a divisive leadership contest that will rub salt into the deep wounds that have been festering over Europe for decades.

Against this background, it seems extraordinary that Her Majesty’s Opposition should be in an even more chaotic state.

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But that is exactly where the Labour Party finds itself in these turbulent times. Under what is laughingly described as his “leadership”, Jeremy Corbyn appears determined to bring his party to the brink of destruction when it should be capitalising on the misfortune of the government. In its own way it is quite an achievement.

In days gone by a disaster befalling the party of government was usually accompanied by a rise in the fortunes of the Opposition. But these are unprecedented times and the rule book has been ripped up as Britain and its politicians try to get a grip on last week’s Brexit vote.

One of the many side-effects of the referendum has been to act as a catalyst to spur Labour MPs into open revolt after nine months of plotting and muttering against him.

Mr Corbyn has been blamed in the angry inquests into Remain’s defeat with many accusing him of failing to campaign with any conviction.

But Labour parliamentarians’ dissatisfaction with Mr Corbyn’s leadership – which boiled over in spectacularly after last week’s vote – had been simmering ever since he became leader.

His refusal to resign despite the cascading resignations from his front bench and losing a no confidence vote risks bringing his party to an existential crisis.

Yesterday Gordon Brown – a ghost of Labour governments past – made a speech in Edinburgh on the future of Britain and Scotland in the EU.

While he was speaking, Pat Glass resigned as Shadow Education Secretary after just 48 hours in the job and Harriet Harman joined the chorus of Labour luminaries calling for Mr Corbyn to quit. (Mr Brown followed suit himself a short time later).

“The real issue comes down to whether we decide are a party of power or a party of protest,” was how he put it.

Under Mr Corbyn, Labour has become a party of protest for the hard left, but it is now one with next to no chance of getting back into government.

With speculation mounting that Angela Eagle will make a leadership challenge supported by deputy leader Tom Watson, Mr Corbyn’s days should be numbered. It is not, however, quite as simple as that.

There are strong suggestions that Labour rule-book does not require Mr Corbyn to have the support of MPs to stand again in a leadership contest.

That means he could survive Ms Eagle’s challenge because he retains the support of the huge numbers of people who flocked to the party when he mounted his successful insurgent campaign for the leadership.

His stock may still be high with left-wingers, but he has little appeal beyond them in the electorate at large. Therefore if he does stay, a split seems inevitable with the moderates parting company from the Corbynistas.

Furthermore, if Mr Corbyn does succeed in hanging on, Labour face a meltdown when an early election is called in the autumn, as seems likely once the Conservatives choose David Cameron’s successor.

So the longer Mr Corbyn lingers, the wider the divisions will become. Kezia Dugdale has already joined the swelling ranks of those who want Mr Corbyn to go and Ian Murray has resigned as Shadow
 Scottish Secretary. Yesterday the pro-Corbyn backlash began north of the Border when a group of left-wingers condemned Mr Murray, Scotland’s sole Labour MP, for putting “factional party politics over the best outcome for the people of Scotland”.

“Your actions are a gift to the Scottish National Party and the Tories, both of whom wish to portray our party as divided and unfit to represent the working class, at a time when the SNP are pushing for independence and the Tories are in crisis,” said a letter bearing their signatures.

That provoked a response from 200 Scottish activists who backed Mr Murray and signed a letter calling for the Labour leader to go.

Amid the noise, there was one point of unity in that, like the Scottish Corbynistas, Mr Murray’s supporters were alive to the need for the party to get its act together as a matter of urgency.

The Corbnistas said with the Conservative Party in chaos Labour had to “grasp the political agenda”.

While Mr Murray’s supporters were adamant that: “We need an effective Labour opposition to hold this government to account and to, ultimately, be in government

Concern for Labour’s future was even expressed from a most unlikely source yesterday when Labour’s restless and angry MPs received support from an particularly unexpected quarter.

At Prime Minister’s Question Time, David Cameron mocked Mr Corbyn saying: “It might be in my party’s interest for him to sit there, it’s not in the national interest and I would say, for heaven’s sake, man, go.”

Mr Cameron sounded as though he was speaking from the heart. But as Mr Corbyn signalled his determination to dig in last night, he clearly wasn’t in the mood for listening.