Corbyn stands firm as MPs call for him to go
Labour leader adamant that vote of no confidence has no legitimacy
Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30
A defiant Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not "betray" his supporters by resigning following an overwhelming vote of no confidence by British Labour MPs.
The party leader said that the vote by the Parliamentary Labour Party had no "constitutional legitimacy" under Labour's rules.
Although there was no official announcement of the voting figures, sources said that it was 172 to 40 in support of the no-confidence motion, with four spoilt papers.
In a statement, Mr Corbyn said: "I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60pc of Labour members and supporters and I will not betray them by resigning. Today's vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy. We are a democratic party, with a clear constitution. Our people need Labour party members, trade unionists and MPs to unite behind my leadership at a critical time."
Mr Corbyn continued: "In the aftermath of last week's referendum, our country faces major challenges. Risks to the economy and living standards are growing. The public is divided.
"The government is in disarray. Ministers have made it clear they have no exit plan, but are determined to make working people pay with a new round of cuts and tax rises.
"Labour has the responsibility to give a lead where the government will not. We need to bring people together, hold the government to account, oppose austerity and set out a path to exit that will protect jobs and incomes.
"To do that, we need to stand together. Since I was elected leader of our party nine months ago, we have repeatedly defeated the government over its attacks on living standards.
"Last month, Labour become the largest party in the local elections. In Thursday's referendum, a narrow majority voted to leave, but two-thirds of Labour supporters backed our call for a Remain vote."
Mr Corbyn's determination to fight on - despite the vote and the walk-out of dozens of shadow ministers - means the Labour rebels will have to mount a formal leadership challenge if they want to oust him.
Lucy Powell, the former shadow education minister, has responded to the vote of no confidence, saying: "If Jeremy is to show any leadership quality at all, he must now reflect and respond to this overwhelming and unprecedented indication from the Parliamentary Labour Party, which includes all wings and all groupings."
Speculation has been rife that deputy leader Tom Watson or former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle - who quit the shadow cabinet on Monday - could run as a "unity" candidate.
Mr Corbyn's supporters are confident that he will win out in a ballot of grassroots activists who swept him to the leadership last year and who will decide the outcome of any contest. His team insists that if there is a challenge, he will automatically be on the ballot paper as the party leader.
But some in the party have argued that under the current rules he will need the nominations of 50 MPs and MEPs, in which case he could struggle to get the necessary support.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "The extraordinary behaviour of Labour MPs has achieved nothing beyond diverting attention from a Tory government in crisis.
"If anyone wants to change the Labour leadership, they must do it openly and democratically through an election, not through resignations and pointless posturing. If there has to be such an election, Corbyn's supporters throughout the movement will be ready for it."
A Labour source loyal to Mr Corbyn insisted "our support is still strong" and that any attempt to oust the leader would amount to "shoving two fingers up to democracy".
The source said: "A quarter of a million people made a decision, 172 aren't going to change that."
Rebels who refused to accept Mr Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell were compared to people who still believed the earth was flat.
"There are a lot of flat earthers out there who have got to come to terms with the fact the world is not as they like it," the source said.
The source poured scorn on the prospect of a challenge from Ms Eagle, saying she would be "the ideal candidate for us" because of her voting record on issues such as the air strikes against Syria.
Ms Eagle voted in favour of authorising bombing operations by the Royal Air Force in Syria, directed against Isil insurgents.