If Jeremy Corbyn's 'leadership qualities' were the real issue, Labour MPs wouldn't be backing Angela Eagle as his replacement

The Parliamentary Labour Party should have chosen a challenger who shares ground with Corbyn on the key issues. That would have proven that this is solely about “effective leadership”, rather than ideology

Louis Staples
Monday 11 July 2016 11:19
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British Opposition Labour Party MP Angela Eagle is pictured as she leaves her home in London on July 11, 2016. 
Britain's Angela Eagle was set Monday to launch a bid to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the main opposition Labour Party, part of the fallout of last month's Brexit vote. / AFP PHOTO / CHRIS J
British Opposition Labour Party MP Angela Eagle is pictured as she leaves her home in London on July 11, 2016. Britain's Angela Eagle was set Monday to launch a bid to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the main opposition Labour Party, part of the fallout of last month's Brexit vote. / AFP PHOTO / CHRIS J

Angela Eagle has finally announced that she will challenge Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the Labour Party. After a period of dilly-dallying that has become synonymous with Labour in recent years, the former Shadow Business Secretary has cited Corbyn’s failure to provide “effective leadership” as the motivating factor behind her decision.

It is hard to argue with Eagle’s logic. Despite a massive surge in party membership, Corbyn has failed at leading his MPs - a key requirement of his role. Calls for his resignation intensified after the EU referendum, with many MPs blaming the result on his half-hearted campaign. Nevertheless, 47 Shadow Cabinet resignations and 172 votes of no confidence later, Corbyn is still standing. Even so, being abandoned by 80per cent of your colleagues is a really, really big deal. At no point in recent political history have MPs rejected their leader with such gravity.

On the surface, Eagle has the hallmarks of a revolutionary. In 1997, she became the first openly lesbian MP to be elected into parliament. If her challenge is successful, she will be the first woman to be elected as Labour leader - and about time too. Eagle has gained praise from MPs after a number of impressive performances as Corbyn’s understudy at Prime Minister’s Questions. With the Tories certain to elect a female leader, the prospect of two women going head-to-head in the House of Commons would certainly be a welcome change.

This makes it even more unfortunate that Eagle isn’t up to the job. Among other issues, she has supported the Iraq War, Syrian air strikes, Trident renewal and cuts to working tax credits, putting her at odds with party members. Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston on Sunday, Eagle said, “I don’t want this to be an issue about individual policies.” Um, sorry Ange, but policy is kind of a large part of this politics business, especially when you’re running for leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

No one who has voted for the Iraq War or Syrian air strikes should ever lead the Labour Party. In the aftermath of Chilcot, rallying around Eagle as a potential leader shows how deeply out of touch Labour MPs are with their membership and the public mood.

The Parliamentary Labour Party should have chosen a challenger who shares ground with Corbyn on the key issues. That would have proven that this is solely about “effective leadership”, rather than ideology. Not all of the 172 MPs who voted against Corbyn or resigned from the Shadow Cabinet are “Blairite scum”. Many, like Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, are socialists who simply feel that Corbyn hasn’t been a good leader. It’s perfectly acceptable to agree with someone's principles but not think they are up to the job of leading the party or our country - something a lot of Corbynistas don't get.

Just to clarify, if you don’t think that Corbyn is heading towards electoral disaster then I kindly invite you to join me in the real world as soon as you regain your senses. At present, the governing “party of business” is destroying our economy and yet Labour still lags behind in the polls. Corbyn is only effective when telling like-minded people what they want to hear. Put him in front of a group of middle-class students drinking kale smoothies and the crowd will roar. Politics isn't that easy, and rightly or wrongly, most people find it hard to warm to you if you always look like you’ve just sat on chewing gum. In May, London Mayor Sadiq Khan demonstrated precisely what Labour must do in order to win elections. He reached out to communities in all boroughs and formed a broad coalition of progressive voters.

Jeremy Corbyn: We must hold Blair to account on Iraq war

Still, the fact remains that Eagle is the exact type of candidate Corbyn’s followers can't stand - someone whose voting record doesn't back up their left-wing rhetoric. Her timing couldn't be worse as the world reacts to New Labour's catastrophic failures laid bare in the Chilcot report. Even Eagle’s own constituency group in Wallasey have signalled their support for Corbyn.

In the end the only winners here are the Tories. Corbyn's supporters will feel disenfranchised and never vote Labour again if he is blocked from the leadership ballot, and if Corbyn wins then the party will likely split forever. The Tories are taking full advantage of Labour's meltdown by scheduling a vote on Trident renewal later this month. After failing to pick a suitable challenger, the only chance that Labour MPs have of ousting Corbyn is another election, which Tory leadership front-runner Theresa May has ruled out until 2020. This gives the government plenty of time to enact their right-wing manifesto unchallenged.

Like so many choices of late, Corbyn or Eagle is about the lesser of two evils. Neither candidate will be able to heal the party’s wounds. I only hope that Labour will eventually stop tearing itself into smithereens and take on the evil that we know all too well: the politics of division and fear.

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