Jeremy Corbyn today comes under fire from a leading Labour figure who believes the UK leader must do more to prevent a hard Brexit and tackle party in-fighting.
Writing in Scotland on Sunday, former shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray condemns the “shocking” anti-Semitism in Labour and attempts by the hard left to deselect MPs.
His article, published as Labour activists arrive in Liverpool for their UK conference, questions why Labour is not performing better in the polls and says more work needs to be done to make the party electable.
Murray argues that Corbyn must look beyond the hard left and make Labour more appealing to mainstream voters. Otherwise, he says, the party will remain in opposition.
His views will chime with moderate and Remain-supporting members of the Labour Party who are growing frustrated with Corbyn’s failure to make an impression in the polls despite the Conservatives being in chaos over Brexit.
Murray warns there is “upset, anger and consternation” among members over anti-Semitism, deselection threats and the party’s reluctance to tackle a hard Brexit.
Over the summer, Corbyn faced furious criticism for failing to tackle anti-Semitism engaged in by his supporters. His own views were also attacked by the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who called him an “anti-Semite” – an accusation rejected by the party leader.
Meanwhile, moderate Labour politicians have been alarmed by a bid to change the rules to make it easier to remove sitting Labour MPs and accept members of hard-left groups. The proposals suggested by the left-wing Momentum group have been backed by Corbyn.
“If we fail to reach out to a wider coalition of voters, we risk remaining in opposition,” writes Murray.
“Jeremy Corbyn has attracted thousands of new members to our party. However, the polls – and last year’s election result – show that we all still have work to do to persuade voters that Labour can lead the country… I sincerely hope the conference is not dominated by internal talk about deselections, rather than what Labour can offer the country and how we can prevent a hard Brexit.”
The Edinburgh South MP, who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet over Corbyn’s leadership two years ago and is Scotland’s longest-serving MP, describes the Liverpool conference as the most important in decades.
Murray is a supporter of a People’s Vote on the EU withdrawal deal, which will be one of the key subjects debated at the gathering.
He argues that after the “debacle” of the rejection of Theresa May’s Chequers plan in Salzburg last week, the need for a stronger response to a hard Brexit is essential.
In his article he writes that he’s encouraged that shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer are keeping the second vote option on the table.
“I know Jeremy is reluctant,” Murray writes. “But I hope he listens to party members. There is an opportunity for Labour to do the right thing and demonstrate that we will put the country before party and the future before ideological dogma.”
Although Corbyn says he voted to stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum, Remainers have accused him of Euroscepticism. Like many on the left, Corbyn has reservations about being part of a political bloc based on the free market.
Murray argues that the Prime Minister’s “dreadful response” to the rejection of her plans means the UK is heading for a “no-deal” Brexit – which makes a strong response from Labour vital.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday urged EU leaders to “step back from the abyss” and engage with the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan. Following the angry clashes at the Salzburg summit, Hunt said it was “counterproductive” to “insult” Britain’s referendum vote and to say the only way the UK could legally leave was by “breaking up your country”.
“What we need to be doing in a situation like this is bringing people together,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“This is a time for people in the EU to step back from the abyss, to sit down and to talk to us about how we can make these sensible, concrete proposals actually work.”
After EU leaders meeting in Austria on Thursday warned that a key element of the Chequers plan would not work, Hunt called them to engage with Britain in a “spirit of politeness and decency” to find an agreed solution.
However, he did not rule out the prospect that the government could now seek a simple, Canada-style free trade agreement – favoured by many Tory MPs – rather than continuing with the more ambitious Chequers proposals.
He underlined the Prime Minister’s warning that she was ready to walk away from the negotiations rather than accept a “bad deal”.
“What she is saying is, ‘Don’t mistake British politeness for weakness. If you put us in a difficult corner we will stand our ground’.”