Boost for UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn against party rebels

British Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to supporters and members of the media after attending a meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee.
British Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to supporters and members of the media after attending a meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday (July 12) won a crucial victory against rebels seeking to unseat him, after the party's executive committee ruled he would automatically be included on a leadership ballot.

The veteran socialist faces a challenge by senior MP Angela Eagle, although others may decide to stand in the race which will see the winner crowned in September.

Three-quarters of Labour lawmakers backed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn on June 28, after months of criticism over his leadership boiled over following the shock vote by Britons to leave the European Union.

But he has refused to resign, noting he was elected on a strong mandate by party members only last September.

Anyone standing for the leadership needs 51 nominations from Labour MPs or members of the European Parliament (MEPs) - and it was not clear that, despite his grassroots support, Corbyn could secure them.

After closed-door discussions lasting almost six hours, the 33 members of Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) decided to include him automatically on the ballot.

"The NEC has agreed that as the incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn will go forward onto the ballot without requiring nominations from the Parliamentary Labour Party and the European Parliamentary Labour Party," a spokesman said.

"All other leadership candidates will require nominations from 20 percent of the PLP and EPLP." Corbyn said he was "delighted" at the result of the secret vote, which backed him by 18 votes to 14, and emerged triumphant from the talks to cheers from supporters.

He said the leadership campaign, in which he would fight "on all the things that matter", from inequality and poverty to improving opportunities, would strengthen Labour.

"That will strengthen our party in order to defeat this Tory government and bring in a government that cares for the people," he said.

Corbyn's finance spokesman and ally John McDonnell added on Twitter: "Democracy prevails. We will use the leadership election to sign up even more members and prepare ground for general election."

Eagle, whose challenge has now become much harder, said she welcomed Corbyn's inclusion on the leadership ballot.

"I'm glad Labour's NEC has come to a decision. I welcome the contest ahead. And I am determined to win it," she said on Twitter.

The shock vote for Britain to leave the EU in the June 23 sparked turmoil across the political establishment, with Prime Minister David Cameron stepping down.

His interior minister, Theresa May, will succeed him in Downing Street on Wednesday after her last remaining challenger for the Conservative leadership pulled out.

She has ruled out calling an early general election - the next one is not due until 2020 - although some suggest she should capitalise on the disarray in Labour's ranks.

The Labour leadership race will formally get underway Thursday, with media reports suggesting candidates will be put to a ballot of members in August before a new leader is announced on September 24.

Corbyn's victory last year was attributed to a surge of new party members who signed up for £3 to vote in the leadership race.

But this time around, anyone who was not a fully registered party member by January will have to pay £25 for the right to vote.

Passions are running high in the party, and a brick was thrown through the window of Eagle's constituency office.

The incident follows repeated complaints by Labour MPs, particularly women, of threats and abuse from Corbyn's supporters if they spoke out against him.

"It is extremely concerning that Angela Eagle has been the victim of a threatening act and that other MPs are receiving abuse and threats," Corbyn said.

"I am calling on all Labour party members and supporters to act with calm and treat each other with respect and dignity, even where there is disagreement."