LONDON – The leader of Britain’s Labour Party urged a lawmaker challenging him for the job to “think for a moment” about her decision as turmoil roils the opposition party in the wake of the country’s decision to leave the European Union.
Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC that he was disappointed that Angela Eagle, the party’s former spokeswoman on business issues, had decided to launch a campaign. But he made it clear he would fight on, hinting he would take up a legal challenge to make sure he is given a chance to defend his post.
“I would ask her to think for a moment,” he said. “This is the opportunity of the party to unite against what the Tories are doing, to put forward an agenda which is different from the austerity agenda being put forward by the Tories, and actually gaining a lot of ground.”
The EU vote has caused turmoil in British politics, exposing broad rifts between the views of the major political leaders and the electorate. Prime Minister David Cameron is resigning after failing to win the vote and a race is under way within the Conservative Party to replace him.
So, too, is Labour struggling with the EU outcome. Corbyn is in jeopardy over fears that he wouldn’t be able to rally national backing to win a new election should Cameron’s successor choose to call one. Senior members of the party want him to go – now – and avert a bruising contest likely to split the party.
“He’s not a bad man,” Eagle told ITV. “He’s not a leader though. He doesn’t connect with Labour voters. He doesn’t connect enough to win an election.”
Among the many issues roiling the Labour party is the question of whether the incumbent leader is automatically entitled to be on the ballot in the case of a leadership challenge. This matters because it is unclear whether Corbyn – who recently lost a confidence vote held by the party’s lawmakers – would be able to otherwise gain the support he would need from this grouping to get his name on the ballot.
“I’m expecting to be on the ballot paper because the rules of the party indicate that the existing leader, if challenged, should be on the ballot paper anyway,” he told the BBC.
Corbyn is confident that he could win an election if nominated because he enjoys widespread grass-roots support.
But having the charisma and appeal to gain support across the board nationally is another matter altogether – a fact made all too clear by the results of the June 23 referendum.
While Corbyn can speak effectively to those who agree with him, he makes little or no effort to persuade those of differing views to join him, said Victoria Honeyman, an expert on British politics at the University of Leeds. After all, he can’t even persuade a majority of his own party’s lawmakers to support him.
“It’s not the fact that he looks like a geography teacher,” Honeyman said. “He just doesn’t seem to be able to communicate with people who don’t think like he does. Particularly if you are leader, you have to be able to talk to people.”