As Labour Faces Major Losses, Corbyn Says He Will Not Lead Party in Future Election

Party leader acknowledges 'very disappointing night' as Conservatives poised for their best showing since 1987

Reuters
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Jeremy Corbyn is photographed outside a polling station during the general election in London, December 12, 2019.
Jeremy Corbyn is photographed outside a polling station during the general election in London, December 12, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Reuters

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Friday he would stand down as his party faced its worst electoral defeat in 84 years, but he did not set a date for his departure and added he would remain in charge during a period of reflection.

"This is obviously a very disappointing night for the Labour Party with the result that we've got," Corbyn said after winning his north London electoral seat.

"I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign," he said, adding that the party needed to reflect and that he would lead the party as it discussed its future.

Later on, however, he said he did not want to go quickly and was prepared to remain leader until the party chooses a successor next year.

"I called for, last night, a period of reflection in the party and obviously the ruling body of the party, our National Executive, will decide what process we follow then for the election of a successor to me," he told reporters.

"I'm quite prepared and obviously elected to do so, to lead the party until that takes place," he added.

An exit poll and early results showed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party were set for a resounding victory in Britain’s election, allowing him to deliver Brexit on January 31.

That leaves Labour, a 100-year-old party born out of the trade union movement, wrestling with what went wrong and what to do about it.

Asked whether she thought she would hold on to her seat in the northern city of Stoke-on-Trent, a traditional Labour stronghold, the party’s candidate Ruth Smeeth bluntly replied: “I’ve definitely lost.”

She placed the blame firmly on Corbyn’s shoulders. “He should have gone many, many, many months ago.”

Labour candidate Gareth Snell said he expected to lose his parliamentary seat in Stoke-on-Trent – a city once regarded as a Labour stronghold, and made clear that he wanted Corbyn to take responsibility for the party's poor performance.

Asked if it was time for Corbyn and his finance chief John McDonnell to go, Snell replied: "Yes."

Corbyn, an avowed socialist who took control of the party after a bruising 2015 election defeat, has shifted Labour sharply away from the centre ground that underpinned three Labour majority governments led by Tony Blair.

During four years in charge, the 70-year-old has built an ultra-loyal support base, pushing centrist members to the fringes and creating an ideological schism that critics say has alienated many of its traditional working-class voters.

An ardent pro-Palestinian activist, he has also been accused of failing to address accusations of anti-Semitism among his supporters.

"Corbyn was a disaster on the doorstep ... everyone knew he couldn't lead the working class out of a paper bag," said Alan Johnson, who served as a senior minister under Blair.

Heartlands decline

Early results showed that Labour's heartlands in former industrial areas of central and northern England – areas that typically voted for Brexit – had swung towards Johnson's Conservatives.

Stoke was hard-hit by 1980s closures of heavy industry and coal mines but remains renowned for its porcelain, bone china and ceramics. Labour has represented Snell's Stoke-on-Trent Central seat since the constituency was created in 1950.

Snell said a combination of the perception that Labour was blocking Britain's exit from the European Union, and some voters' dislike of Corbyn meant he expected defeat.

"It's a lovely and toxic combination of the fact that the message in Stoke-on-Trent that's been heard by the voters is that the Labour Party tried to stop Brexit," Snell told the BBC.

"It would be remiss of me not to mention that Jeremy Corbyn has come up on the doorstep: some people really like him, some people really dislike him, and that has been a turn off."

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