There is no small irony in the fact that Labour MPs were this evening reminded by their colleagues not to brief details of tonight’s parliamentary Labour party meeting before a spokesman for Corbyn went out into the Committee Corridor to, er, brief journalists about what happened at the meeting. The official account is that there was a ‘sea change in the atmosphere’ and that ‘Jeremy faced down his critics’. MPs coming out did say that the meeting wasn’t as shouty as previous encounters, but one moderate suggested that this was because there is a greater sense of resignation and that ‘people just can’t be bothered to get angry any more’. Corbyn had also come better prepared, with supportive contributions from MPs such as Rebecca Long-Bailey and Louise Haigh.
The two main themes of the questions from MPs were Europe and prostitution – the latter a row entirely confected by Jeremy Corbyn himself. MPs were ‘queuing up to criticise his stance’, according to those present, including Fiona Mactaggart, Stella Creasy and Sharon Hodgson, who made very forceful objections to this. Corbyn did offer his own argument on the question of whether sex work should be decriminalised.
Wes Streeting rather cleverly responded to a point from Corbyn about the importance of message discipline – which was reinforced by some of his supporters including Louise Haigh – by saying he backed the call for unity and the need to be on message. He then asked why was Corbyn going off and talking about issues that Labour MPs disagreed with him on, such as Trident, sex work and the Falklands, which he pointed out to the room had been settled in a war the year before he was born.
On Europe, the leader was pressed by MPs about whether he was going to show a bit more spirit. Barry Sheerman, Graham Jones and Peter Kyle all pushed him to show leadership in the EU referendum, with Kyle arguing that Labour voters were looking for someone to take a lead in the campaign. John Mann told him to stop attending rallies of the converted and to try to persuade others.
Some MPs were politely brutal in their analysis of Labour’s prospects. Liz Kendall said that Labour should be aiming to gain around 400 seats in the local elections, while Ian Austin gave the leader a rather comprehensive rundown of how bad his poll ratings were, asking how long he thought it would take for him to turn the situation around.
Corbyn didn’t answer these last two points, and also skipped others such as Streeting’s contribution. The format of the PLP meeting is for the leader to give a presentation, MPs to ask their questions, and then the leader respond to them all in order. He flicked over the page on some questions.
MPs seem angrier, though, that his spokesman was briefing outside the meeting after they’d been told not to do so, and are planning to complain at the next meeting.
Given the leader didn’t answer a number of difficult questions, it is difficult to see how he ‘faced down his critics’. Perhaps his spokesman merely meant that he faced them.