After Jeremy Corbyn yesterday became the first former Labour leader to be suspended from the party in its 130-year history, a full-scale civil war between the party’s left and more moderate members lining up behind Keir Starmer has been set in motion.
Starmer faces a “battle for Labour’s soul” after his former boss had the party whip removed, prompting a battle that one figure on the Labour left told The Times will “consume the leader for the next four years”.
Len McClusky, a close Corbyn ally and general secretary of the party’s biggest donor Unite, described Corbyn’s suspension as a “grave injustice”, warning Starmer that “a split party will be doomed to defeat” at the next general election.
Rumours of a split in the party emerged almost immediately, with Corbyn urging his supporters to stay put, The Guardian says. Corbyn told his backers to “stay in the party and argue the case for economic and social justice”, the paper adds, while John McDonnell, the ex-shadow chancellor, called for the Labour left to “stay calm”.
Meanwhile, Momentum, the pro-Corbyn campaign group, announced that it is to hold a “Stand with Corbyn” online rally this evening, saying “the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn by the Labour Party leadership is a naked attack on the left that undermines the fight against anti-Semitism”.
However, while members of the party have erupted in anger at the decision, a snap YouGov poll reveals support for the suspension among the general public and Labour members. A total of 58% of respondents said the suspension was justified, with only one in eight (13%) saying it was wrong.
Among Labour members, 41% backed removing the whip, while 26% said they disagreed with the move. Across Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters, there was overwhelming support for suspending the ex-leader.
Starmer campaigned on a pledge to bring unity back into the party ranks, but the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says this could be quite a task after Corbyn’s comments.
“Corbyn’s forced exit once again exposes the divides in the party that Sir Keir promised to bring together,” she said. “The scars from Labour’s years of infighting are still fresh, and prone to tear.”