Angry Labour backlash after Jeremy Corbyn refuses to take blame for election disaster or set departure date
Labour leader stays in place for now, blaming Brexit for defeat – but exit polling demolishes his defence and pinpoints his own unpopularity
Jeremy Corbyn is facing a furious Labour backlash after refusing to take the blame for the party’s most disastrous general election defeat for 80 years, or set a date for his departure.
Senior Labour figures tore into their leader after he blamed public support for Brexit for Boris Johnson’s stunning triumph – a Commons majority of 80, which left Labour with 59 fewer MPs than in 2017 on a “Friday the 13th” night of horror.
In the single interview he gave, Mr Corbyn also spoke of his “pride” in Labour’s rejected manifesto and protested against the media’s “personal abuse”, while insisting: “I’ve done everything I could.”
However, exit polling demolished his defence, revealing that far more voters turned against Labour because of its leader (43 per cent) than because of its pro-referendum Brexit policy (17 per cent).
It also showed the party’s vote collapsed in the most pro-Remain areas (by more than 6 points), as well as in those most fervently pro-Leave (by around 10 points).
Two former Labour home secretaries, Alan Johnson and David Blunkett, led the criticism of Mr Corbyn, with London mayor Sadiq Khan and both successful and defeated candidates also telling him to take responsibility.
Protesting that the defeated leader “couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag”, he added: “I want them out of the party. I want Momentum gone. Go back to your student politics.”
Lord Blunkett attacked “the clique that runs the Labour Party”, demanding an interim leader – he suggested Hilary Benn – take over from Mr Corbyn immediately.
“I haven’t heard one of them apologise to all those who lost their seats last night,” the peer pointed out.
Mr Khan also blamed the “catastrophic” defeat on Mr Corbyn’s leadership and his “repeated failure to tackle antisemitism”, calling on him to resign “quickly”.
And Wes Streeting, an MP in Essex, said he had to take the blame for “an economic policy that people don’t believe in and a rotten culture”.
In his first early morning comments, Mr Corbyn announced he would be gone only by the next election, due in 2024, and would stay on for “a process of reflection”.
Later, he relented by agreeing to go in “the early part of next year”, but declined to make way for a stopgap ahead of the ruling national executive committee setting a timetable.
In the fallout from the dramatic result, the Conservatives’ best since 1987:
* Government sources said the Brexit bill is likely to be brought back to the Commons as early as next Friday, for a second-reading vote.
* Boris Johnson, speaking in Downing Street, urged both sides of the Brexit divide to “find closure and let the healing begin”, as he declared the NHS was now the “overwhelming priority of the British people”.
* Irish premier Leo Varadkar revealed the prime minister had suggested he would use a decisive win to compromise on Brexit to strike a trade deal, by signing up to EU standards.
* Nicola Sturgeon said she would, next week, formally request next powers for Holyrood to hold a second independence referendum, after the SNP won 48 out of 59 possible Westminster seats.
* Jo Swinson insisted she had “no regret” over her key role in triggering the early election – despite the go-ahead for Brexit and Liberal Democrat failure that cost her her own seat.
* Len McCluskey, the Unite chief and Corbyn ally, also attacked campaign failings including the “incontinent rush of policies” and the failure to apologise for antisemitism.
Asked about his role in Labour’s debacle, Mr Corbyn said: “I’ve done everything I could to lead this party.
“Since I became leader the membership has more than doubled and the party has developed a very serious and fully costed manifesto.”
Arguing he had “received more personal abuse than any other leader”, Mr Corbyn added: “This election was ultimately taken over by Brexit.”
Some drew a sharp contrast with Ed Miliband, who resigned immediately after losing in 2015, saying: “I take absolute and total responsibility for our defeat.”