A Labour MP has warned his party is on course for a “historic and catastrophic” defeat at the next general election under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
John Woodcock MP said he thought Mr Corbyn would remain as leader until the next election, and urged his party to “look with clear sight” at what it happening to Labour following its historic defeat in Copeland.
The words from the MP for Barrow and Furness, which neighbours Copeland, come as shadow chancellor John McDonnell tried to explain the defeat – the first time in decades that a governing party has snatched a seat from the opposition.
Mr Woodcock, a long-term critic of the party leader, said Labour is “in trouble as a party”, adding the result in Copeland was a “disaster”, and it would insult people’s intelligence to suggest otherwise.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “The position that we’re in at the moment, we are not on course to victory, we are actually on course to an historic and catastrophic defeat and that will have very serious consequences for the communities that we represent and the causes the Labour party stands for.”
Mr Woodcock said it would be counter-productive for MPs to force an annual leadership contest against Mr Corbyn when he still enjoys strong support in the party membership, adding: “Rather than making it about the leadership, I think it’s incumbent upon us who have expressed our views about Jeremy Corbyn in the past…to say how as a party are we falling short, how can we actually meet the needs of the country better than we have done in the last 18 months.”
The increase in the Conservative vote in Copeland is the biggest increase enjoyed by a government party in any by-election since 1966, and the win is the first time a governing party have taken a seat from an opposition since 1982.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the defeat may have been down to Mr Corbyn’s public opposition to nuclear power, in a seat where the industry is a major employer.
He told BBC1’s Breakfast he was “really disappointed” by the Copeland result, but insisted it was not a judgement on Mr Corbyn’s leadership. He said voters in Stoke, where Labour defeated a Ukip challenge, had done the nation a service by rejecting the “politics of dishonesty and division”.
He said: “This isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the position of the Labour Party for the future. We are in a difficult period over these last 20 months because of these leadership challenges and the divisions that have been sown within our party. The vast majority of our members want us now to unite and to campaign and hold the Government to account, and that’s what we will do.
“These by-elections were difficult ones. We knew that. We’ve lost Copeland and we will learn lessons from that, but we’ve won Stoke and we’ve defeated something which was really dangerous for politics in this country. We’ve turned back the politics of dishonesty and division. The people of Stoke, by supporting Labour, have done us all a service in that.”
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