Labour’s rebel MPs are holding off challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the party’s leadership to allow crisis talks with his deputy, Tom Watson, and the Unite leader, Len McCluskey, to go ahead, in an attempt to prevent further rifts within the party.
Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary who had been known to be gathering Labour MPs’ signatures to support a leadership run, released a statement saying he would not launch a challenge while the talks were going on.
Smith said: “Yesterday, I spoke directly with Len McCluskey of Unite and met with our leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to explore what I can do to try and heal the rifts that have opened up in our movement.”
He said Corbyn had reassured him he was “engaging in talks with an open mind”. Smith added: “I believe that all of us whose priority is to restore unity in the Labour movement and give us a chance to defeat our only true enemy, the Tories, should give these talks every chance to succeed. That is what I intend to do and I urge all my colleagues to do likewise.”
That makes it hard for Angela Eagle, the former shadow business secretary who had previously publicly announced that she was preparing to challenge Corbyn, to take any action before the weekend.
However, Eagle’s backers have insisted she has more signatures than the 20% of the parliamentary party that would be necessary to launch a challenge, and is in a “holding pattern”, ready to launch a bid if Corbyn refuses to step down.
Watson is said to be keen to have more time to try to persuade Corbyn that his position has become untenable, after scores of resignations from the shadow frontbench.
Unless Corbyn agrees to step aside, there is likely to be a battle inside the party – and potentially through the courts – about whether his name would automatically have to be included on any ballot paper.
While the Labour leadership crisis has been rolling on, the number of supporters signed up to Labour has expanded rapidly, with 100,000 signing up since the Brexit vote, according to party sources.
The Keep Corbyn campaign, coordinated by the grassroots group Momentum, believes the bulk of these new members would back the embattled leader in a challenge; but a rival Saving Labour campaign is actively signing up members of the public who want him to stand down.
The prominent backbencher Stephen Kinnock, the MP for Aberavon, said the referendum result meant Labour needed “a persuader, not a protester”, to hold the Conservative government to account through the tough negotiations with the rest of the EU that will lie ahead.
In a separate effort to step up the pressure on Corbyn, a group of Labour MPs calling themselves the Labour Campaign for Prison Reform issued a statement calling on Corbyn to appoint a shadow prisons minister, after the resignation of Andy Slaughter from the frontbench last week.
“We sincerely hope that Labour can set out clearly an alternative vision for the criminal justice system and that you will act to appoint a shadow minister responsible for this process,” said the group, which claimed the backing of senior Labour MPs.
This article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th July 2016 12.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010