Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496