The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Labour must kill vampire Jezza



EARLY yesterday morning I awoke to the sound of my mobile phone buzzing. Reaching out a slightly weary hand, I picked it up, to see a message from a Labour Shadow Minister. It contained a single word: ‘Jexit.’ Sitting watching the referendum results rolling in on Friday morning, Labour MPs saw their TVs turn into crystal balls. As Labour stronghold after Labour stronghold fell to Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson’s Independen­ce Day army, they were catapulted forward to another night – a General Election night.

‘It suddenly became real,’ said one Shadow Minister. ‘All that stuff about what Jeremy Corbyn was doing to our core support and to previously safe Labour seats. It was there in front of our eyes.’

As a result, the talking has finally stopped. The coup against Corbyn – signed off in principle in March – is now under way. The WhatsApp group used by the plotters has exploded into life. The timetable is roughly this: over the next few hours dozens of Labour MPs will be contacting John Cryer demanding he table a no confidence motion in Corbyn at tomorrow night’s meeting of the Parliament­ary Labour Party – of which he is chairman.

If he agrees, the motion will be debated, followed by a show of hands. If there is a majority in the room, a secret ballot of all Labour MPs will be held on Tuesday. Another majority will trigger the leadership contest. All of this will be done alongside a series of staggered frontbench resignatio­ns.

At the same time, a second front is opening. Pressure is also being brought to bear on members of the Shadow Cabinet who – in the eyes of their colleagues – have become accomplice­s to Corbyn’s destructio­n of their party.

AT Friday’s marathon three-hour emergency Shadow Cabinet meeting – and despite much prebriefin­g about confrontin­g their leader – only Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray dared to challenge Corbyn directly. ‘It’s going to be made very clear to them that this is decision time,’ said one veteran backbenche­r. ‘There is no hiding place. This is the final chance to save the party. It’s binary: do you move against Corbyn, or do you back him? It’s going to be made very clear to them their choice will define their careers.’

Labour has been a party dying a coward’s death. Supine. Silent. Its senior politician­s had decided to simply prostrate themselves, and wait to be carried quietly into the dark night. But now, finally, there are signs of life. Signs that if a once proud party is prepared to go down, it will at least do so fighting.

Belatedly we are witnessing the desperatio­n of the damned. ‘I don’t care any more,’ one MP told me. ‘Moving against Corbyn may work. It may not. But I’m not carrying on like this.’ Thank God. Over the past few weeks, we have heard much about Corbyn’s toxic influence – or non-influence – over the referendum campaign. How his interventi­ons promoting the virtues of uncontroll­ed immigratio­n drove nail after nail into the Remain campaign’s coffin.

But in truth the most damning thing about his contributi­on was its utter irrelevanc­e. It’s not that Labour couldn’t conjure compelling arguments to resonate with its core support; it couldn’t even conjure a presence in the debate. The problem with the Labour Party is not that it doesn’t have compelling ideas, or charismati­c leaders, though as we have seen over the past weeks, they are certainly in short supply.

Labour’s problem is that, until the past 48 hours, it had simply lost the will to live. Speak to any Labour MP and you will eventually hear the phrase: ‘What can we do?’

But they know what they have to do. They have to fight Jeremy Corbyn – and they have to keep fighting him till he is defeated.

Labour MPs have been skulking behind a morality of self-interest. ‘We have to be careful and pick the right time. We have to move when we can be sure of defeating him.’ It’s a lie, and they know it’s a lie. As one Shadow Minister said: ‘It’s about ambition, that’s all. You’ve got people like Lisa Nandy and Owen Smith thinking they can be the next leader. And you’ve got people like John Healey thinking, “If I play this right I can be Labour’s chief spokesman on urban planning for the next couple of years”.’

Already we hear demands for ‘unity’. In truth they are demands for unconditio­nal surrender from self-interested Corbynite appeasers within the Shadow Cabinet.

If not now, when? What will it take for senior Shadow Ministers finally to have the courage to act? Their party has just experience­d proxy annihilati­on at the hands of the electorate. Nigel Farage has emerged as a Pied Piper to Labour’s working-class base. And yet still we hear the Harpies cry: ‘Don’t rock the boat. Don’t do anything to make the Corbynites mad.’

Staggering­ly, given everything that has happened, Labour has been presented with an opportunit­y. The next Tory manifesto has already been written by the Leave campaign. Vast new amounts of spending on the NHS. A dramatic cut in immigratio­n. An end to the pressure on GPs’ surgeries, schools and public services. And when the next Tory leader fails to meet these stratosphe­rically high expectatio­ns, Labour will be able to pounce.

But it cannot pounce if it is cowering. And it cannot pounce if it is being pinned to the ground by Jeremy Corbyn. He has ceased to be a leader, and has instead become a political vampire. Paralysing and then feeding on his party, slowly sucking the blood from its veins.

Labour MPs have got to stop placing obstacles in their own path. ‘We haven’t got a candidate.’ Find one. Deputy leader Tom Watson already has a mandate from the party. Angela Eagle is well respected. Dan Jarvis’s biography resonates with Labour activists on all wings.

‘The members won’t like it.’ Stop hiding behind members. Being an MP is a leadership position. Lead.

The days when the leaders of Labour’s plastic rebel army could rationalis­e their spinelessn­ess are over. Until now, their argument has been that all that was required was for people to wait. Let Corbyn shamble from one political disaster to another, let disillusio­nment sink into the grassroots – then move.

BUT the waiting game is going to have to end. Having talked to Labour and Tory MPs, including MPs from both sides of the referendum debate, there is one thing they all agree on. We are a few months away from a new General Election. The referendum effectivel­y divided the nation down the middle. Whoever is our new Prime Minister will require their own mandate to unite the country.

Which means Labour stands on the brink of extinction. ‘If we fight the upcoming election with Jeremy Corbyn as leader we’ll be reduced to 100 seats,’ one Labour MP told to me. That’s overly optimistic. Corbyn pledged to mobilise voters in his party’s heartlands, and on Thursday that’s just what he did. Working-class Labour voters turned out in unpreceden­ted numbers. To kick Labour in the teeth.

Last week I was in the House of Commons for the memorial service for Jo Cox. I saw Labour MP after Labour MP rising to pay their tributes. They spoke of selflessne­ss. They spoke of courage. They spoke of a commitment – indeed an obligation – to place the collective good before personal advancemen­t.

For a former member who has become estranged from the Labour Party, it was a poignant moment. Not just because those speeches captured the essence of Jo, but because they captured the essence of the Labour Party.

Labour has been presented with one final chance to save itself. Tomorrow, Labour MPs will either vote for Jexit, or they will vote for oblivion.

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