LONDON: Jeremy Corbyn said he will stand down as leader of the UK’s opposition Labour Party after a comprehensive rejection of his bid to lead the country.
Early results confirmed the exit poll forecast, which suggested Labour would lose 61 seats since the 2017 election, finishing on just 201 MPs, as Boris Johnson’s Conservatives head for a big majority.
If correct, it would be Labour’s worst result since 1935.
Defeated MPs and senior officials said the leader should go immediately, but Corbyn used a speech at his constituency count to say he wants to stay as leader to oversee a debate about the left-wing party’s future.
“I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign,” Corbyn said before adding that there needs to be “a process of reflection” about Labour’s direction.
“I will lead the party during that period to ensure that discussion takes place, and we can move on into the future.”
That’s a sign that Corbyn and those around him want to try to control Labour’s direction and ensure that his allies have a firm grip on its organisation.
But anger is so great among critics in the party after Thursday’s result that they may try to force him out sooner.
“Corbyn was a disaster on the doorstep. Everyone knew that he couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag,” Former Labour cabinet minister Alan Johnson told ITV.
For the early part of the night, the Labour leader’s allies stuck to the line that the problem had been Brexit, not Corbyn.
“It looks as though all other debate on other issues has been squeezed out by this one issue, Brexit,” Corbyn’s closest ally, Treasury spokesman John McDonnell told Sky News.
“People just wanted it over and done with. It put Labour in a very difficult position.”
But other MPs said there was a problem with the leader.
Ian Murray, who was standing for the party in Edinburgh, said Corbyn’s leadership had come up repeatedly on the doorstep, while Gareth Snell, who said he expected to lose his seat in the former Labour stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent, said it’s time for Corbyn and McDonnell to go.
The question among those around the Labour leader will now shift to whether their project, to make the party into an authentically socialist one, can be saved under a new standard bearer.
That will depend partly on who is around to stand as Corbyn’s heir.
But it will also depend on how Labour’s mass membership, who elect the leader, respond to the defeat.
They put Corbyn in the job and defended him from Labour members of parliament who wanted him gone three years ago. Will the shock prompt them to go in a different direction, or will they accept the argument that the ideas were right, they were simply drowned out by Brexit?