The first meeting of the parliamentary Labour party since the party’s disastrous election defeat began with a round of applause. Only it wasn’t for Jeremy Corbyn. Instead MPs clapped in tribute to those colleagues who had lost their seats in the party’s worst election showing since 1935. The reaction the beleaguered Labour leader received was mixed at best – with the session, which ran on for over two hours, dominated by angry outbursts from surviving MPs.
Addressing MPs, Corbyn apologised for his role in the result:
‘I am very sorry for the result for which I take responsibility. I will continue to lead the party until a new leader is elected. I want us to have the smoothest possible transition for the sake of the party as a whole and for those Labour mayors and councillors who are up for re-election in May. Whoever the next leader is, they will need the party to come together for those elections and to oppose Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.’
He went on to suggest Brexit was the key factor in the election result – saying that despite Labour’s best efforts to move the conversation to domestic issues, Brexit dominated: ‘We must now listen to those lifelong Labour voters who we’ve lost. I believe that Brexit was a major – although not the only – reason for their loss of trust in us’. With regards to the party’s path in the short term, Corbyn said that all Labour MPs ought to vote against the government Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it comes before the house on Friday.
However, his comments failed to impress the bulk of MPs present – with attendees complaining that Corbyn’s apology had failed to grasp the scale of the defeat. The most positive intervention came from newly elected Corbyn ally Claudia Webbe.