Jeremy Corbyn is giving a speech this morning about Labour’s response to the EU referendum. Rumours have been sweeping the party overnight that the Labour leader will use the event to step down and hand over the reins to John McDonnell, who has been on manoeuvres for months. But aides deny that this will happen today.
Nevertheless, there must be recognition in the Corbyn team that the situation is pretty precarious. The lengthy Shadow Cabinet meeting yesterday wasn’t as furious as some other parts of the parliamentary Labour party might have hoped, but some members are discussing resigning en masse to trigger a change at the top of the party. ‘The trouble is, we’re all a bit worried that just one of us will go, look over our shoulder and then see that no-one is charging with us,’ says one Shadow Secretary of State.
What is cheering the rebels – and worrying the Corbyn camp – is that the Labour membership does seem to be shifting in its view of Jeremy Corbyn. MPs and party workers report genuine disappointment with the way the Labour leader approached the referendum campaign among activists who are exhausted and horrified after weeks of campaigning for Labour for In. They believe that now could be the best possible time to act – and that waiting any later now doesn’t just risk a change of leadership rules at the party’s autumn conference, but a terrible meltdown for the party in an early election following the election of a new Tory leader. That is why the motion of no confidence in the leader is so serious for him.
For his part, McDonnell has been impressing broadcasters with his clear and measured performances in their studios, and has been touring the country doing membership events. But he is far more loathed than Corbyn. MPs who think the current leader is amateurish and wrong believe that McDonnell is genuinely dangerous and capable. They cannot just work to remove Corbyn, but need a plan to stop the Shadow Chancellor tightening his grip on the party that they think they might just have a chance this week of winning back.