Corbyn faces insurrection from front bench after Benn sacking

Almost a dozen UK shadow cabinet ministers resign as meeting is cancelled

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: cancelled a meeting of the shadow front bench for today. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: cancelled a meeting of the shadow front bench for today. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a full-scale insurrection within his front bench after he sacked shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn for plotting to overthrow him.

By yesterday evening, almost a dozen shadow ministers had resigned and Mr Corbyn cancelled a meeting of the shadow front bench for today.

MPs will today introduce a motion of no confidence in their leader, which is expected to win the support of up to eight out of 10 in the parliamentary party. After that, Mr Corbyn is likely to face a formal leadership contest if a challenger wins the support of more than 20 per cent of MPs and MEPs.

As one shadow minister after another announced they no longer had confidence in their leader, Mr Corbyn’s allies insisted that he retained the confidence of the broader party membership which elected him last year.

Yesterday evening, however, the party leader’s hopes of survival received a blow when deputy leader Tom Watson stopped short of expressing confidence in Mr Corbyn.

“I was deeply disappointed to see Hilary Benn sacked in the early hours of this morning and equally saddened that so many talented, able and hard-working colleagues felt they had to leave the shadow cabinet,” Mr Watson said.

Turbulent times

“My single focus is to hold the Labour party together in very turbulent times. The nation needs an effective opposition, particularly as the current leadership of the country is so lamentable.”

Mr Watson is believed to covet the leadership role, presenting himself as a candidate who could bring the competing wings of the party together in advance of a general election, which could come within months.

A veteran plotter, Mr Watson was for many years a supporter of Gordon Brown and he resigned from the cabinet in 2006 in an effort to unseat Tony Blair, who stepped aside the following year.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell urged shadow cabinet members to “calm down”, suggesting they were sleep deprived after the referendum. He said there was no chance of Mr Corbyn stepping aside, and he promised to chair the leader’s re-election campaign and ruled out ever seeking the leadership himself.

In a statement after he was sacked, Mr Benn said that many Labour party members had concluded that Mr Corbyn did not have the qualities to lead the party in a time of national crisis.

“It has now become clear that there is widespread concern among Labour MPs and in the shadow cabinet about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of our party. In particular, there is no confidence in our ability to win the next election, which may come sooner than expected, if Jeremy continues as leader,” he said.

After Corbyn: Labour contenders

Dan Jarvis

The MP for Barnsley, a former army officer who served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, has been tipped as a Labour leader since he entered parliament in 2011. Jarvis (43) could appeal to both poorer communities that are turning away from Labour and the middle-class centrists it needs to win. He is relatively unknown outside Westminster, however, and may be reluctant to lead his party into likely defeat at an early election.

Tom Watson

Deputy leader Tom Watson won a big mandate from the party membership at the same time as Jeremy Corbyn last year. An Old Labour figure, he has been loyal to Corbyn until now, serving as a bridge between the leader’s left-wing coterie and other wings of the party. Watson is experienced in the role of assassin and, as an ally of Gordon Brown, helped to topple Tony Blair.

Lisa Nandy

Wigan MP and shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy (36) has long been seen as a leadership candidate from the soft left of the party. The daughter of an Indian father and English mother, the former children’s rights activist is an effective media performer whose appeal stretches beyond her own ideological wing of the party.

Angela Eagle

The shadow business secretary is one of the most experienced members of the Labour front bench, an MP since 1992 who served in Gordon Brown’s cabinet. She represented the Remain campaign in television debates ahead of the referendum, the loss of which she has blamed on austerity policies.