The first parliamentary party meeting following that disastrous election result was always going to be a difficult one for Jeremy Corbyn, to put it mildly. Clive Efford of the Tribune group expressed real anger last night, and Tonia Antoniazzi talked about low-paid staffers who lost their jobs – as she did when she cried in a LabourList interview during the campaign. A lot of the personal hurt came from the fact that Corbyn did not appear to take full responsibility on the morning after the result, and that he had not contacted those who lost their seats as leaders have done in the past. Mary Creagh reportedly gave Corbyn a “hairdryer moment” in person yesterday, and told Channel 4 that he was “a man without honour and without shame”.
To address such grievances, the Labour leader told parliamentarians: “I am very sorry for the result for which I take responsibility.” He also confirmed that he would lead until someone new is elected, saying: “I want us to have the smoothest possible transition for the sake of the party as a whole and for those… up for re-election in May.” He described Brexit as “a major – although not the only – reason” for which lifelong Labour voters lost trust in the party, before telling MPs that they would be whipped to vote against the Brexit bill on Friday.
The meeting exposed the deep hurt felt by many MPs who were only returned to parliament by the skin of their teeth last week and wanted to stand up for their former colleagues. But it was also a deeply uncomfortable start to life as a Labour MP for many of the newcomers, most of whom are on the left of the party. Claudia Webbe, firmly on the left of the party, stood up to say Labour had lost the election but there was “a lot to celebrate”. She was laughed at, though had been talking about the high number of BAME Labour MPs elected (h/t Kate Proctor). Another told LabourList that several in the newbies group found the meeting to be “deeply unpleasant and nasty”.
The Labour leadership contest is well underway now, though it hasn’t officially started and won’t do so until January. Lindsay Hoyle gave Lisa Nandy a boost yesterday, as she was chosen to give the Speaker nomination speech in the afternoon. It is notable that as well as talking about towns, she picked out left-wingers Laura Pidcock and Dennis Skinner as worthy of mention. Nandy needs to quash doubts about her leftie credentials after chairing Owen Smith’s campaign in 2016. She also needs to prove that she has some policy answers, and not only a well-considered diagnosis of Labour’s electoral problem.
Keir Starmer is setting out his own case today. He has given an exclusive interview to The Guardian to confirm that he is “seriously considering” a leadership bid. His key messages: the country still needs a “bold and radical Labour government”, and there is “no victory without values”. Will that be enough to convince the majority pro-Corbyn membership that he wouldn’t water down Labour’s unashamedly radical programme? He is well-placed to succeed in the race, but faces difficult questions over not just his politics but also being the only male frontrunner – something he dodged on Radio 4’s Today programme. As for his background, Starmer points out that his mother was a nurse and his father a toolmaker, which is bound to become another “son of a bus driver” line – it worked well enough for the London mayor, after all. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.