It seems like Jeremy Corbyn’s problems never end. Throughout his first year as leader, he didn’t get the full support from his parliamentary colleagues and struggled in the opinion polls. Then after the EU referendum, 80% of MPs had a vote of no confidence in him and a leadership contest followed. Corbyn convincingly won that election against Owen Smith and the thought of unity in the party was a possibility. How wrong that turned out to be.
Late last year Jamie Reed, a vocal Corbyn critic, resigned as a Labour MP triggering a by-election in Copeland. In January, Tristram Hunt also resigned as an MP resulting in another by-election in the seat of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Both Reed and Hunt had their respective jobs lined up, but their criticisms of Corbyn’s leadership and their ideology differences must have been a factor in their decisions to leave parliament. To make matters worse for Corbyn; after he imposed a three-line whip on MPs to vote for the triggering of Article 50, two of his front bench team resigned. Jo Stevens and Tulip Siddiq have quit the Shadow Cabinet, and the possibility of more resigning is a possibility.
This may sound like the Parliamentary Labour Party are making Corbyn’s life hell and are responsible for most of Labour’s problems. However, Corbyn needs to take responsibility for Labour’s terrible opinion poll ratings. Corbyn supporters can’t keep blaming the so called ‘Coup’ of last year. Currently being 16 points behind a Tory Government, who are floundering on Brexit negotiations, is not acceptable for the official opposition in this country. His leadership is clearly not working, with Corbyn being consistently behind Theresa May in polls regarding who is the best leader.
In terms of Brexit though, he does have the correct position. Corbyn says that Labour will make sure Brexit goes ahead, but will amend Article 50 to stop the Tories using Brexit to “turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.” For Labour to go against the public’s decision in the EU referendum would be electoral suicide. The Liberal Democrats can afford to vote against enacting Article 50, as they are not the official opposition and can appeal to a narrower section of the electorate.
However, Corbyn has made a mistake in imposing a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote for Article 50. Firstly, Corbyn as a backbencher voted against Labour party orders over 500 times; so he doesn’t have credibility in asking for loyalty now as Labour leader. And secondly, Labour MPs should be able to vote on an issue like this with their conscience. I voted to remain in the EU but I would now vote for Article 50, as the majority of the public gave parliament an instruction to leave the EU. If Labour MPs believe, however, that voting against Article 50 is the right thing to do, they should be able to do so.
The issue of Brexit is not the only thing that the Labour Party are worried about. As mentioned earlier, there are two by-elections for Labour to defend. Labour only won by 2,500 votes in Copeland last year and the Bookmakers are predicting a Conservative win. Stoke-on-Trent Central has always been a Labour seat and last year Labour won by 5,000 votes over UKIP. However, UKIP have been successful in previous by-elections and have a strong candidate for this by-election in leader Paul Nuttall. Predicting by-elections is a tricky business, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Labour won both by-elections or lost both of them.
The problem for Corbyn, if Labour lost both seats, wouldn’t be his position as leader. His support amongst the Labour membership is still very strong. The issue would be Labour MPs causing him even more trouble in future months, if Labour lost these seats. But more importantly, the public would see Corbyn as someone who can’t win and that impression would remain. These by-elections aren’t vital for Corbyn in terms of his position as leader, but for his position in trying to become our next Prime Minister.
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