LIVERPOOL • Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected British Labour leader yesterday, seeing off a challenge from his MPs but leaving the opposition party deeply divided, with its very future in question.
Supporters in Liverpool in northwestern England cheered the 67-year-old as results confirmed that he had defeated rival MP Owen Smith with 61.8 per cent of the vote among party members and supporters.
Mr Corbyn, first elected this time last year, increased his share of the vote from then, when he received 59.5 per cent after putting an anti-austerity, anti-nuclear agenda at the forefront of British politics for the first time in a generation.
"Elections are passionate and often partisan affairs and some things are often said in the heat of the debate that we later come to regret," he said after the result was announced. "We have much more in common than that which divides us. 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."
The result is a major blow to Labour MPs who launched a vote of no confidence against Mr Corbyn after June's Brexit vote, arguing that he failed to campaign hard enough to keep Britain in the European Union.
They complain that his left-wing views can never win power, and bitter rows, marked by allegations of intimidation and bullying by Mr Corbyn's supporters, have sparked fears of a split in the party.
There are also concerns that without a strong Labour opposition, Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives may be heading for a "hard Brexit" that would take Britain not only out of the EU but also out of the European single market.
Mr Corbyn claims his leadership has energised many people who feel left behind by mainstream politics, drawing comparisons with other anti-establishment movements across Europe.
Labour's membership now stands at more than 550,000, up from just 200,000 18 months ago.
But with the Conservatives up to 14 points ahead in some polls, and the Labour leader's personal approval ratings at rock bottom, analysts warn the party will not be entering Downing Street any time soon.
"Labour is not going to win any elections in the near future," said Professor Anand Menon, of the Department of European and International Studies at King's College London.
The question now is how Labour MPs respond, with some calling for the party to unite. Reports suggest more than a dozen MPs may be ready to return to Mr Corbyn's shadow Cabinet. However, more than 40 resigned from the frontbench in the rebellion earlier this year and many prominent figures are thought unlikely to return.
Mr Corbyn's victory "really puts the parliamentary Labour party in a very difficult position", said Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics.
He predicted a "fragile equilibrium" would now develop between the MPs and the leadership, adding: "A lot depends on how Corbyn behaves."