Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn may hold his own party hostage over the European Union referendum question, by threatening to withdraw his support for the Remain campaign if his opponents mount a coup against him, sources close to the leader have said.
The support of both Corbyn and his trade union backers is widely seen as an essential component of the Remain campaign to keep Britain within the European Union, as they are able to mobilise the left wing vote. So far the campaign has been dominated by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his government, but the Labour party also officially backs a Remain vote.
Mr Corbyn made his first appearance on the campaign trail in mid-April, delivering a lacklustre performance, having been a lifelong critic of the European project. But his allies within the party have suggested that he may withdraw his support completely should Labour members seek to oust him over the anti-Semitism row currently engulfing the party, The Telegraph has reported.
In addition to allegations that Mr Corbyn has opened the door to anti-Semitism in the party, the local and regional elections taking place this Thursday are also being seen as a watershed moment in Corbyn’s leadership. Yesterday Mr Corbyn insisted that the party would not lose a single council seat; a prediction which may turn out to be somewhat optimistic, as pundits are predicting sweeping losses of 150-175 seats for the beleaguered party.
But the Referendum threat is likely to hit home, with sources telling the Telegraph that keeping Britain within the EU is seen as more important among senior Labour figures than the short-term matter of party leadership.
One senior Shadow cabinet source admitted that frustrated Labour MPs intend to “hold their breath until Thursday and hold their noses until the 24th June” – the day after the referendum vote – before they launch their planned coup. There is “no point in making a move unless you have a distinct prospect of success,” the source added.
Another senior Labour MP has confirmed that an informal deal has been struck between rebelling MPs to hold off with a leadership bid until after the referendum, to avoid distracting the party from their campaigning efforts.
It is understood that former Cabinet Minister Margaret Hodge will be put up as a ‘stalking horse’ candidate to open the leadership field up and stage an attempted takeover if local election results are as bad as feared.
Chris Leslie MP, Labour’s former shadow chancellor, said the party “could not accept anything less” than a significant win in the elections, adding: “Labour should be streets ahead and we should be steaming forward. I don’t think we should accept anything less than big gains in these local elections.”
Former leadership contender Liz Kendall, and Michael Dugher the former shadow culture secretary, both named a target figure of 400 seats gained as a barometer to show the party is on track to win in 2020.