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9 July 2016

Jeremy Corbyn denies feeling “under pressure“ as he faces a leadership challenge from Angela Eagle

Talks between the Labour leader and the unions, brokered by deputy leader Tom Watson, have been abandoned.

By Helen Lewis

Jeremy Corbyn is set for a leadership challenge after “peace talks” with the trade unions broke down.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, had been trying to broker a settlement between Corbyn and the party’s big financial supporters. But after these failed on Saturday, Angela Eagle announced that she would formally open a leadership challenge on Monday.

But in a statement after the failure of the talks, Tom Watson said: “Since the talks began, Jeremy has publicly declared his intention to continue as leader come what may. This means there is no realistic prospect of reaching a compromise that satisfies the majority of colleagues in the PLP.

“It is with regret and profound sadness that I have concluded there is little to be achieved by pursuing wider conversations with our union affiliates at this time.

“The Labour party was founded with the explicit aim of pursuing the parliamentary path to socialism. Every Labour leader needs to command the support of their MPs in the parliamentary Labour party, as well as party members, in order to achieve that. It is clear to all that Jeremy has lost the support of the PLP with little prospect of regaining it.”

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Although Corbyn was elected with a large majority by Labour members, union affiliates and £3 supporters last summer, he has since lost the confidence of the parliamentary party. He was hit by a wave of shadow cabinet resignations beginning on 26 June, and has since struggled to form a new one. He then lost a vote of confidence among MPs by 172 to 40. Former leaders Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband have since called for him to stand down.

However, Corbyn feels that he has a duty to the membership who elected him, and has refused to consider any kind of transition out of the job. Suggestions included Tom Watson taking over as interim leader, and Corbyn nominating a successor of his choice to go on the ballot.

It is thought that Owen Smith might also contest the leadership. Earlier this week, Smith cautioned that the party is in “danger of splitting apart”, adding that he was willing to do “anything I can to save and serve the party”.

Smith has said that he respects Tom Watson’s judgement when the deputy leader says talks cannot go any further, and says he intends to meet personally with Corbyn to “explore any and all avenues possible to save our party”.

Although he does not declare he will be launching a leadership challenge of his own, Smith does not rule it out, saying instead that the “movement must come together at all costs” in the face of “the greatest crisis facing Labour in generations”.

Yet Corbyn appeared unruffled by this latest development in Labour’s ongoing crisis. Speaking at the Durham Miner’s Gala, he said he was not feeling under pressure.

“There’s a lot of debate about what’s happening in the Labour party at the present time. And I am inundated with questions, questions, questions all the time. And I have patience that is infinite to answer questions, questions, questions. 

“But one I got today really did puzzle me. They said: are you coping with the pressure that’s on you? I said: ‘There’s no pressure on me. None whatsoever.’ The real pressure, the real pressure – real pressure – is when yoyu don’t have enough money to feed your kids. When you don’t have a roof over your head. When you are wondering if you are going to be cared for.”

Owen Smith has released a statement expressing his disappointment that talks have broken down and re-iterating his commitment to “doing anything necessary” to prevent a split.

The crucial detail now is whether Corbyn is automatically entitled to a place on the ballot, or whether he must seek 50 nominations by MPs and MEPs. The party and the leadership have differing legal advice, with the final decision expected to be that of the party’s NEC.

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