Jeremy Corbyn faces Labour MPs as Sadiq Khan calls for new tone

Jeremy Corbyn will try to heal divisions among Labour MPs on Monday, after better-than-expected election results failed to quell doubts about his leadership from sections of the parliamentary party.

He plans to address Monday evening’s meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, alongside the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who was forced to deny on Sunday that he had an eye on the Labour leadership himself, after appearing to criticise Corbyn’s electoral strategy.

Asked by the Guardian if Corbyn should lead Labour into the next general election, Khan said: “The Labour movement can only improve people’s lives by winning elections. The last time we won a mayoral election was 2004. The last time we won a big election was 2005 ... We don’t win elections by just talking to people who already vote Labour.”

The Labour leader’s allies hailed as fantastic the results of Thursday’s elections, in which they also took the Bristol mayoralty, remained the largest party in Wales and held on to key councils in swing constituencies such as Harlow.

Corbyn travelled to Bristol to congratulate the new mayor, Marvin Rees, whose unexpected victory, as a black man in a city whose riches were built on the slave trade, is viewed as a significant political milestone.

The Labour leader said the election results showed his party was holding on, with support for it growing. However, sceptical MPs have said they believe the performance was not enough to build a majority in 2020, which will require what Khan called a “big tent” strategy, to win over Conservative supporters. There is deep concern about the result in the Scottish parliament, where Labour slipped into third place, behindConservative party.

Following Khan’s 14 percentage point victory over Zac Goldsmith – the biggest in a mayoral election since 2000 – he said it was not for him to advise the party’s leader on how to win seats in other parts of England, Scotland and Wales, but added: “I don’t believe in heroic failure. I believe in winning elections to change people’s lives for the better.”

His comments may increase perceptions at Westminster that a new Labour power base is forming in the capital, with ambitions on the national party, but he moved to quell that, saying: “City Hall is not going to be used as a springboard for a challenge to the leadership or a coup or for me to give running commentary. Jeremy Corbyn has a big job to do as leader of the Labour party. My job is to be mayor of London.”

Separately, a report based on interviews with swing voters in the key parliamentary seat of Nuneaton and shared with the Guardian underlined the scale of the challenge facing Labour. In focus groups carried out by Ed Miliband’s former pollster James Morris, a panel of former Labour voters in the Warwickshire town said they viewed Corbyn as “old-fashioned” or “scruffy”.

Participants were unenthusiastic about the Conservatives and keen to give Labour a chance, Morris found, but many had a negative view of Corbyn.

Corbyn and his team firmly reject the “focus group politics” of the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, which they believe spawned a generation of “plastic politicians”.

But Morris and his co-author Ian Warren, another former Labour pollster, say the public’s inability to see Miliband as a potential prime minister was key to Labour’s loss of last year’s general election – and they warn that voters who are not firm Labour supporters appear to be even more wary of Corbyn.

The mood among the leader’s critics was not helped on Sunday when shadow chancellor John McDonnell sparked a public spat with the Blairite backbench MP Caroline Flint on Twitter, urging her to withdraw comments she had attributed to him about the local elections.

Khan spoke to the Guardian after his first official engagement, the Yom Hashoah Holocaust memorial service in Barnet, which signalled a clear attempt to distance himself from the Labour leadership’s handling of recent allegations of antisemitism inside the party, which included incidents such as Naz Shah MP suggesting that Israel’s Jews should be sent to live in the US and Ken Livingstone attempted to defend her by claiming Hitler had supported Zionism.

Khan said he planned to “hit the ground running”, holding meetings on Monday with the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the head of the fire service and with Transport for London.

“The key thing for me is to tackle the housing crisis,” he said. “I am bringing together an alliance of people from local authorities, housing associations, developers, those in finance to make sure we start building the genuine affordable homes we need. I have spent this weekend working on that and a number of other things.”

He said the alliance would change London’s overall strategic plan and publish new supplementary planning guidance, both policies that govern the amount of affordable housing that developers are obliged to build when they erect new private homes. He believes his pledge to tackle the housing crisis has allowed him to reach out to voters across the political spectrum.

Speaking following the Holocaust memorial service, the mayor said he had lost some Jewish votes “because of the antics of members of the party making comments that are clearly unacceptable and disgusting”.

Corbyn announced an independent review into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour party, chaired by former Liberty chair Shami Chakrabarti, after suspending both Shah and Livingstone.

Khan was greeted warmly by members of the Jewish community when he arrived at a reception before the ceremony. He met the chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Holocaust survivors and leading figures in the Jewish community, including Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, former Labour fundraiser Lord Levy and Eric Pickles, the government’s ambassador on post-Holocaust issues.

Henry Grunwald QC, chairman of the National Holocaust Centre, told Khan from the stage: “You have promised to be a mayor for all Londoners. By your attendance here today we hope that you are beginning to fulfil that pledge.”

With all but one of the local council results nationally announced by the end of Sunday, Labour had lost a net 24 seats – rare for an opposition party, but not as bad as many projections had suggested. The Conservatives lost 46 seats.

Corbyn will be able to introduce two new Labour MPs, Gill Furness and Christopher Elmore, after the party won byelections in Sheffield Brightside and Ogmore in Wales, held on the same day as the other polls.

Powered by article was written by Heather Stewart and Robert Booth, for The Guardian on Sunday 8th May 2016 21.44 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010