Britain’s Labour Party has ended a fractious leadership campaign pretty much where it started, with Jeremy Corbyn re-elected as leader and the party still deeply divided about him.
Mr. Corbyn won re-election on Saturday with 61.8 percent of the more than 500,000 votes cast. His only challenger, Labour MP Owen Smith, won the remaining 38.2 per cent. The results were announced as the party began its annual conference in Liverpool.
The vote capped what has been a tumultuous summer for the party. Mr. Corbyn faced a revolt by Labour MPs shortly after Britain voted to leave the European Union on June 23. Many Labour MPs have never been comfortable with Mr. Corbyn, who was elected leader a year ago in a stunning upset, and they felt he had not done enough for the “Remain” side during the referendum.
Nearly 80 per cent of the party’s 231 MPs supported a motion of non-confidence in his leadership in June. The dissidents then prompted the leadership contest, which turned bitter at times with some MPs suggesting the party could split.
Many also believe Mr. Corbyn is too far to the left and can’t lead the party to victory. They point to polls showing Labour trailing the Conservatives by as many as 11 percentage points in public support.
However, Mr. Corbyn, 67, has enjoyed overwhelming support among party members, many of whom have been recruited to the party by a group called “Momentum,” a left-leaning organization that formed after he won the leadership. Thanks largely to Momentum, the party’s membership has more than doubled to 654,000.
After the results were announced on Saturday, Mr. Corbyn reached out to his opponent, Mr. Smith, and urged the party to unify.
“I will do everything I can to repay the trust and the support, to bring our party together, to make it an engine of progress for our country,” he told several hundred party members who gathered to hear the results. “Elections are passionate and often partisan affairs, and things are sometimes said in the heat of the debate, on all sides, which we sometimes later come to regret. … As far as I’m concerned, let’s wipe that slate clean from today and get on with the work we’ve got to do as a party together.”
Mr. Smith congratulated Mr. Corbyn, but signalled that the rift in the party is far from healed.
“I entered this race because I didn’t think Jeremy was providing the leadership we needed, and because I felt we must renew our party to win back the voters’ trust and respect,” he said in a statement, noting that he will leave the conference early to spend time with his family. “However, I fully accept and respect the result, and I will reflect carefully on it and on what role I might play in future to help Labour win again for the British people.”
Mr. Smith added that he does not favour splitting the party, but said “today’s result shows that our movement remains divided. It now falls primarily to Jeremy Corbyn, as Labour Leader, to heal those divisions and to unite our movement.”
Many Labour members such as Steve Beckett, welcomed the results and said it was time for the party to unify around Mr. Corbyn.
“The members yet again have spoken,” Mr. Beckett said after the results were announced. “We plead with all the Members of Parliament who are slightly reluctant to join us: Let us go forward and beat the Tories.”
Others, however, weren’t so sure.
Louise Ellman, a Labour MP from Liverpool, didn’t support Mr. Corbyn and remained unconvinced on Saturday.
“The issue is whether Jeremy, seeing this is a great vote of confidence, continues to operate exactly as he has been doing,” she said in an interview after the results. “Up to now he’s been interested solely in members of the Labour party, growing party membership, which is great to have, but these are people who already agree with him. The concern of people like me is that unless he reaches out to the electorate, to the general public, we’re simply not going to win a general election because those members do not reflect the general public.”Report Typo/Error