Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, is seeking urgent talks with Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to broker a compromise that would prevent the party plunging into a snap leadership contest, as Angela Eagle prepares to launch a challenge by the end of the day.
Sources close to Watson – who as Corbyn’s deputy, would become caretaker leader if he chose to resign – said: “Everyone needs to calm down and try and prevent a civil war in the Labour party. We should not rush into a leadership contest that would be irreversible.”
Meanwhile, Pat Glass became the latest MP to resign fromthe shadow cabinet, after just two days in the post of shadow education secretary.
Glass, who had already decided to step down from parliament at the next general election, tweeted: “It is with a heavy heart that I have today resigned as Shadow SoS Education. My dream job but the situation is untenable.”
Emma Lewell-Buck became another casualty, stepping down as a shadow communities and local government minister, while 77 Labour councillors signed a letter saying Corbyn should go. One senior party source said: “it’s not a coup, it’s a riot”.
Eagle is gathering support among MPs and is expected to launch a fomal challenge if Corbyn does not resign. She and Watson are both regarded as contenders, but others, including the shadow work and pensions secretary, Owen Smith, could also run if a contest is triggered.
One Labour MP backing Eagle said there was “a lot of satellite traffic” between her camp and Watson’s – and said they were likely to regard any bid to persuade Corbyn to step aside as manoeuvring by the deputy leader.
Any meeting between Watson and Corbyn will not take place until after the leader’s appearance at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday lunchtime, which is likely to underline Corbyn’s unpopularity on his own backbenches.
Corbyn’s allies have made clear that he has no intention of stepping aside, however, and members of his team are readying themselves for a contest.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has told MPs seeking to overthrow Corbyn that they must accept his leadership if he sees off the challenge. He also called for an end to “nastiness”.
A defiant Corbyn has vowed to fight on despite an overwhelming vote of no confidence by his own MPs, who declared their wish to see him gone by a margin of more than four to one.
But while his Westminster colleagues are lined up against him, the leader appears confident he still commands sufficient support among the wider membership to emerge victorious once again. Crucially, he also appears to enjoy the support of trade union chiefs.
McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and Corbyn’s closest ally, told reporters as he left his home on Wednesday morning that he accepted there would be a leadership challenge, but urged Labour MPs to calm down.
He said: “It looks as though we will have a leadership election now ... All we are saying to Labour MPs is play by the rules, play by the rules of our party, and if there is to be a democratic election, respect the wishes of our members. Our country is facing some real, serious risks at the moment. And we have got a job as MPs to come together to try and protect the people who might be affected by that.”
Corbyn shocked the party when he battered established mainstream rivals in September on the back of an influx of left-wing activists, who have kept up a vocal support through the Momentum group.
In other developments on Wednesday, Margaret Beckett, one of Labour’s most senior figures, has said the party risks breaking up unless Corbyn steps down.
A tearful Beckett, former acting leader and former foreign secretary, said “never in my wildest dreams” did she envisage voting for a motion of no confidence in a Labour leader until Tuesday.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “When you assume leadership you have to understand that the interests of those you lead come before your own and in those interests I’m afraid he should stand aside.”
Corbyn has no experience in leadership, said Beckett, accusing his team of acting “like a separate unit from the Labour party”. Beckett has already described herself as a “moron” for nominating Corbyn in the last Labour leadership contest.
“Part of what came out of the turbulence of the last day or so is a realisation there are people around Jeremy who are prepared to see the Labour party split rather than for him to go, and that is anathema to everybody who thinks that we need to get rid of this government and the damage that they are doing and the further damage that a rightwing, even more rightwing, Tory government would do,” she said.
In further pressure from the Labour hierarchy, Tessa Jowell issued a direct plea on TV to Corbyn to stand down. The former culture secretary told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the Labour leader was putting the party’s future in jeopardy. She described the leadership crisis as a “complete shambles” and said it was a “statement of the obvious” that Corbyn had to go.
Speaking directly to the camera on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, she said: “Jeremy, you love the Labour party like I do and the Labour party has given you every opportunity that you have been able to exercise to make life for your constituents better. You and I are in the same position in relation to that but it is absolutely clear that your continued leadership is putting the Labour party’s future in jeopardy ... so I ask you to follow the strongest possible view of the parliamentary party and stand down.”
The ex-cabinet minister said it was unclear whether Corbyn would be automatically on the ballot of any leadership election because of the lack of support among MPs. She said MPs in the running for leader were Tom Watson, Angela Eagle and Yvette Cooper.
The Labour leader has clung on despite a dramatic and destabilising coup attempt, started at the weekend, which has resulted in two-thirds of his shadow cabinet stepping down, as well as 28 shadow ministers and 11 private parliamentary secretaries.
More than three-quarters of Labour MPs – 172 – voted to show that they had no confidence in his leadership, while 40 voted for him. Corbyn responded by issuing a warning that he had the support of Labour members, and that he was going nowhere. More than 230,000 people have signed an online 38 Degrees petition expressing confidence in Corbyn, the former Labour MP Chris Williamson points out.
Bullying, intimidation, harassment and death threats have been “unleashed against MPs from the right to the left of the party”, according to Lisa Nandy, who stepped down as shadow energy secretary on Tuesday.
Writing in the Guardian, she warned against her party being “smashed apart by a polarised, toxic, angry battle that is silencing the sensible majority”.
“This is the choice before the Labour party. To turn outwards and lead, or inwards to certain destruction. If we choose the latter path we will die and we will deserve to. It is not too late to change,” she wrote.
Nandy, who is considered to be on the soft left of the party and is seen as a potential future leadership contender, struggled with her resignation and did not vote in the confidence ballot because she felt it was a sideshow. She believes Corbyn must stand again and a choice given to party members.
This article was written by Heather Stewart and Mark Tran, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th June 2016 10.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010