LIVERPOOL: Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected British Labour leader on Saturday, seeing off a challenge from his MPs but leaving the opposition party deeply divided, with its very future in question.
Supporters in Liverpool, northwest England cheered the 67-year-old as results confirmed that he had defeated rival MP Owen Smith with 61.8 percent of the vote among party members and supporters.
Corbyn, first elected this time last year, increased his share of the vote from then, when he received 59.5 percent after putting an anti-austerity, anti-nuclear agenda at the forefront of British politics for the first time in a generation.
“Elections are passionate and often partisan affairs and some things are often said in the heat of the debate that we later come to regret,” he said after the result was announced.
“We have much more in common than that which divides us.
“As far as I’m concerned, let’s wipe that slate clean from today and get on with the work we’ve got to do as a party together.”
The result is a major blow to Labor MPs who launched a vote of no confidence against Corbyn after June’s Brexit vote, arguing that he failed to campaign hard enough to keep Britain in the European Union.
They complain that his left-wing views can never win power, and bitter rows, marked by allegations of intimidation and bullying by Corbyn supporters, have sparked fears of a split in the century-old party.
There are also concerns that without a strong Labour opposition, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives may be heading for a “hard Brexit” that would take Britain not only out of the EU but also out of the European single market.
Corbyn claims his leadership has energized many people who felt left behind by mainstream politics, drawing comparisons with other anti-establishment movements across Europe.
Labor’s membership now stands at more than 550,000, up from just 200,000 18 months ago.
But with the Tories up to 14 points ahead in some polls, and the Labor leader’s personal approval ratings at rock bottom, analysts warn the party will not be entering Downing Street any time soon.
“Labor is not going to win any elections in the near future,” said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at Kings College London.
The question now is how Labor MPs respond, with some calling for the party to unite.
Labor’s home affairs spokesman Andy Burnham told BBC radio shortly before the result that, while the “war of attrition” must stop, Corbyn must also build more support among the public, not just Labor activists.
“No-one gets the right to take Labor down to a devastating (election) defeat,” he added.
He added that suggestions that Corbyn’s supporters are planning to push for the deselection of MPs critical of his leadership must stop.
Reports suggest more than a dozen MPs may be ready to return to Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.
However, more than 40 resigned from the front bench in the rebellion earlier this year and many prominent figures are thought unlikely to return.
Corbyn’s victory “really puts the parliamentary Labor party in a very difficult position”, added Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics.
He predicted a “fragile equilibrium” would now develop between the MPs and the leadership, adding: “A lot depends on how Corbyn behaves.”
The first test will come later Saturday, when Labor’s National Executive Committee meets to discuss plans to give Labor MPs a greater say in choosing Corbyn’s front bench team in parliament.
However, Corbyn wants to involve party members in shaping his top team, a move which would benefit him. AFP