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Jeremy Corbyn faces no confidence motion and leadership challenge

Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey have submitted a motion ahead of Monday's PLP meeting. 

The long-threatened coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn has begun. I reported several weeks ago that Brexit would be "the trigger" for a leadership challenge and Corbyn's opponents have immediately taken action. Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey have submitted a motion of no confidence in the Labour leader for discussion at Monday's PLP meeting. If accepted, it will be followed by a secret ballot of MPs on Tuesday. A spokesman for Corbyn told me it was "time for the party to unite and focus on the real issues that affect peope from today's decision and hold the government to account on their exit negotiations." 

Any confidence motion would be purely symbolic. But Corbyn's opponents are also "absolutely convinced" that they have the backing of the 51 MPs/MEPs needed to endorse a leadership challenger and trigger a contest. Letters are expected to be delivered to general secretary Ian McNicol from this weekend. The prospect of a new Conservative prime minister and an early general election has pushed MPs towards action. "We have to get rid of him now," a former shadow cabinet minister told me. "If we go into an election with him as leader we'll be reduced to 150 seats."

Hilary Benn, Tom Watson, Angela Eagle and Dan Jarvis are among those cited as potential candidates. One MP suggested that a "Michael Howard figure" was needed to steer the party through the next election. John McDonnell, Corbyn's closest ally and another potential successor, is believed to lack sufficient support (15 per cent of MPs/MEPs) to make the ballot. 

Labour figures were dismayed by Corbyn's performance during the referendum and partly blame his lack of enthusiasm for defeat. Polling showed that nearly half of the party's voters were unaware of its position a few weeks before polling day. Corbyn is also charged with costing support by conceding the weekend before the referendum that it was "impossible" to limit free movement. "It simply shone a light on how utterly out of touch Corbyn and McDonnell are with many traditional Labour voters outside of London," a senior MP told me. "Jeremy made the biggest concern for traditional Labour voters thinking of voting Leave - the impact of freeedom of movement - his main reason why Britain should Remain. It was a sort of political suicide of genius proportions." 

The rebels are seeking shadow cabinet support for their challenge (one spoke of a "moral responsibility" on them) but no one called for Corbyn's resignation at today's two and three quarter hour meeting. I'm told that shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray was the only member to directly criticise his leadership. In a statement relesed earlier today, Watson emphasised the need for "stability". He said: "Labour has lessons to learn and we will to continue to listen but our focus over the next few days must be to reassure voters, millions of whom are very concerned about our country's future. They should know that we will work in Parliament to provide stability in a period of great instability for our country." 

The general secretaries of 12 affiliated trade unions have rejected any move against Corbyn. In a statement published on LabourList, they wrote: "The Prime Minister’s resignation has triggered a Tory leadership crisis. At the very time we need politicians to come together for the common good, the Tory party is plunging into a period of argument and infighting. In the absence of a government that puts the people first Labour must unite as a source of national stability and unity.

"It should focus on speaking up for jobs and workers’ rights under threat, and on challenging any attempt to use the referendum result to introduce a more right-wing Tory government by the backdoor. 

"The last thing Labour needs is a manufactured leadership row of its own in the midst of this crisis and we call upon all Labour MPs not to engage in any such indulgence."

Many Labour MPs accept that Corbyn would likely win any leadership contest owing to his mass support among party activists. But they are prepared to make multiple attempts. "If you’re going to go for it, you’ve got to accept that the first time he would come back and win," an MP told me. You’ve then got to be ready to go again. The first time will be a softening-up exercise. I don’t think he’d run again twice, I don’t think he has the guts for it.”

Earlier reports of a letter signed by 55 Labour MPs calling for Corbyn to resign were  dismissed by some as a leadership plant. "It's Damian [McBride] or someone who's read his book," one suggested. They believe the claim was a time-honoured device to weaken the rebels by creating false expectations.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.