JEREMY Corbyn triggered an exodus from Labour’s front-bench yesterday after his overwhelming victory in the race for the party leadership.
Within minutes of the left-winger being announced as Ed Miliband’s successor, a raft of senior Labour figures declared that they were not prepared to serve him as shadow ministers.
Despite Corbyn securing a landslide victory, the departure of the likes of shadow chancellor Chris Leslie and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper to the backbenches illustrated the stiff challenge the 66-year-old faces to unite Labour behind his radical plans to take the party to the left.
Many within the Labour old guard fear that Corbyn’s left-wing agenda will allow the Conservatives to capture the centre ground and hand the next general election to David Cameron.
Last night his triumph was used by the SNP to advance its cause with Nicola Sturgeon arguing Corbyn had to prove it could win at the polls otherwise Scots would conclude that independence was the only way to escape Conservative rule.
Having run a campaign that had re-energised the left, Corbyn won in comprehensive fashion securing 59.5 per cent of the vote in an election that saw 422,664 party members, trade unionists and registered supporters cast a vote.
The contest was settled after the first count with Andy Burnham coming a distant second with 19 per cent of the vote, Cooper was in third place with 17 per cent and Liz Kendall came last with 4.5 per cent.
Tellingly, Corbyn captured the majority of party members’ votes making it impossible to argue that he had triumphed on the back the new voting system that allowed non-Labour members to participate if they paid a £3 fee to become a registered supporter.
Across the party, there was recognition that Corbyn had achieved a convincing mandate to lead Labour – a fact that will discourage his internal opponents from mounting a leadership coup.
In his acceptance speech, Corbyn announced his ambition to lead a Labour “fightback” declaring: “We don’t have to be unequal, it doesn’t have to be unfair, poverty isn’t inevitable, things can and they will change”.
After the result was announced at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, Corbyn went outside to be serenaded by supporters singing The Red Flag, led by Billy Bragg.
Although Corbyn won the overwhelming support of party members, only a small proportion of Labour’s 232 MPs backed him.
The difficulty that many at the top of the party have with the direction he intends to take the party was evident when Cooper said she did not expect to take a shadow cabinet post, while shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves announced she would go to the backbenches when she returns from maternity leave.
Shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds and shadow health minister Jamie Reed also said they would not serve under Corbyn.
Kendall, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt and Leslie had already indicated during the three-month leadership campaign that they would leave the front benches if the Islington North MP won.
Miliband said he intended to remain on the backbenches, but urged the party to support Corbyn.
However, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna – a senior centrist who withdrew from the contest after a matter of days – issued a plea for the party to “come together” behind its new leader.
In a post on Facebook, Umunna said: “Now the contest is over, we must respect the result, come together and focus on providing the most credible and effective opposition to the Tories.”
However, there is deep concern amongst many Labour parliamentarians about Corbyn’s plans to leave Nato, his commitment to nuclear disarmament, and his refusal to rule out campaigning to leave Europe.
It is expected that the new deputy leader, Tom Watson, who has a reputation as a Labour “fixer”, will have key role to play in getting the party behind Corbyn.
Watson was declared Corbyn’s deputy in the third round of voting, defeating
Ben Bradshaw, Stella Creasey, Angela Eagle and Caroline Flint. One of Corbyn’s first tasks will be to appoint a shadow cabinet with particular attention focused on the shadow chancellor.
Some believe the crucial post will be handed to his fellow left-winger John McDonnell, the new leader’s political ally and friend.
An alternative approach would be to appoint a “unity candidate” who would have the approval of the parliamentary party such Eagle, Hillary Benn or Owen Smith.
North of the Border, the newly-elected Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said Corbyn’s election showed that “politics has changed”.
The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “The reality today is that at a time when the country needs strong opposition to the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn leads a deeply, and very bitterly, divided party. Indeed, if Labour cannot quickly demonstrate that they have a credible chance of winning the next UK general election, many more people in Scotland are likely to conclude that independence is the only alternative to continued Tory government.”
In full: Jeremy Corbyn’s victory speech
I want to thank Liz Kendall for her friendship during this campaign, for the way we have managed to have some moderately different opinions on a number of issues.
But we have managed to maintain a very good friendship and Liz is somebody I admire because she absolutely stands up for what she believes in, whether it is easy, simple or popular, or uneasy, not simple or popular, so Liz, thank you very much. Those late-night train rides will never be the same again.
So, thank you to my fellow candidates and to the thousands of party members that have attended the hustings events all over the country. It is quite amazing that every one of them was completely full, standing room only and many, many other members and supporters were able to get along to them.
That is a tribute to our party, all the candidates both for deputy leader and for leader, and the way in which our members want passionately to engage in debate and be able to influence party policy and make our party more inclusive, more democratic and their membership better listened to in the future.
I want to thank my own campaign team. They have been absolutely amazing. We came together after we had gone onto the ballot paper - I appreciate with difficulty - and I want to say thank you to the 36 Members of Parliament - well 35 plus me because I nominated myself - for nominating me for this position.
I know some of them had possibly some reluctance to do so, it is reported. But they did so in the spirit of inclusion and the spirit of democracy, and I thank them for that and I look forward to working with all of them after this election campaign, because we have got great work to do in the party.
And so our campaign began with very little and we gained support, we gained volunteers and I thank the unions that nominated me, Unite, Unison, the TSSA, Aslef, the Communication Workers Union, the Prison Officers Association, the Bakers’ Union, the Socialist Education Association, the Socialist Health Association and the support received from the RMT union and the FBU, and all the other unions that took part in this campaign. We are a party organically linked together between the unions and party membership and all the affiliated organisations. That is where we get our strength from.
As a former union organiser in Nupe (National Union of Public Employees), now part of Unison, I fully understand the importance of unions at the workplace, defending people’s rights, standing up for their members, and that is why I don’t appreciate what this government is trying to do to shackle unions in the Trade Union Bill they are bringing forward on Monday.
Our campaign attracted the support of 16,000 volunteers all over the country, organisers in each part of the country that organised all the events and meetings that we have held. In total, we have done 99 of those events.
Today is the century and we are here at the end of this very long campaign and it has been quite incredible the numbers of people that have come forward to join our party.But before I go on to that I just want to say a big thank you, they all know who they are, to my many personal friends, many people, everyone in Islington North Labour Party for electing me to party eight times up until May of this year, their fantastic comradeship, friendship and support, it has been quite amazing and I absolutely value their advice. Sometimes it’s advice you don’t always wanna receive but that is the best advice you get, and I say thank you to all of them in Islington North. I also say a huge thank you to all of my widest family, all of them, because they have been through the most appalling levels of abuse from some of our media over the past three months, it has been intrusive, it has been abusive, it’s been simply wrong.
And I say to journalists: attack public political figures, make criticisms of them, that’s okay, that is what politics is about. But please don’t attack people who didn’t ask to be put in the limelight, merely want to get on with their lives, leave them alone, leave them alone in all circumstances.
During this amazing three months our party has changed. We have grown enormously, we have grown enormously because of the hopes of so many ordinary people for a different Britain, a better Britain, a more equal Britain, a more decent Britain. They are fed up with the inequality, the injustice, the unnecessary poverty, all those issues have brought people in in a spirit of hope and optimism. So I say to the new members of the party, or those that have joined in as registered supporters or affiliated supporters: welcome, welcome to our party, welcome to our movement.
And I say to those returning to the party who were in it before and felt disillusioned and went away: welcome back, welcome back to your party, welcome home.
The media and maybe many of us simply didn’t understand the views of many young people within our society, they have been written off as a non-political generation who is simply not interested, hence the relatively low turnout and low level of registration of young people in the last general election. They weren’t. They are a very political generation that were turned off by the way in which politics was being conducted, and not attracted or not interested to it, in it, we have to and must change that.
So, the fighback now of our party gathers speed and gathers pace. I’m delighted that Kezia Dugdale is here today, our leader in Scotland. We are all going to be campaigning in Scotland, for Labour in Scotland, with those great traditions, those great Labour traditions in Scotland. I thank (Welsh First Minister) Carwyn Jones for his leadership and the way in which we are going to fight in Wales and I congratulate them on ending the internal market in the health service in Wales, something we want to do in the rest of Britain.
And I say congratulations to Marvin Rees, selected yesterday as our mayoral candidate for Bristol, we are all going to be down there Marvin, helping you and supporting you to win Bristol. And to my friend Sadiq Khan, who has been elected as our mayoral candidate for London, Sadiq we are going to be campaigning together and we are going to be campaigning together particularly on the crucial issue of housing in London. I am fed up with the social cleansing of London by this Tory government and its policies.
We need a Labour mayor, we need a Labour mayor in London who can ensure we do house everyone in London, we do end the sky-high rents, we do end the insecurity of those living in the private rented sector, we need a Labour mayor to bring that about in this wonderful great city of London and Sadiq is the man to do it.
This week the Tories will show what they are really made of. On Monday they have the Trade Union Bill, designed to undermine even the ILO (International Labour Organisation) conventions and shackle democratic unions and destroy another element of democracy within our society. We have to oppose that. They are also pushing the Welfare Reform Bill which will bring such misery and poverty to so many of the poorest in our society. I want us as a movement to be proud, strong and able to stand up and say “we want to live in a society where we don’t pass by on the other side of those people rejected by an unfair welfare system”. Instead we reach out to end the scourge of homelessness and desperation that so many people face in our society. We are strong enough and big enough and able to do that. That is what we are about.