Jeremy Corbyn resisted calls for him to step down immediately as head of the Labour party Friday, but said he would resign sometime before the UK’s next election, as he faced intense pressure following predictions of a sweeping defeat to the ruling Conservatives.
“I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign,” the veteran socialist said after winning his north London seat for the 10th time.
The comments came as calls grew for Corbyn to step down immediately, as critics within the party blamed his hard-left stances, mismanagement of the party and inability to deal with an anti-Semitism crisis, for turning voters off.
He admitted in an acceptance speech the results were “very disappointing”.
But he stopped short of saying he would stand down immediately, instead announcing he would lead the party during a “process of reflection” into what went wrong.
Corbyn defended his “manifesto of hope” and maintained they were “extremely popular” during the campaign. But his message had been eclipsed by Brexit.
“Brexit has so polarised and divided debate in this country, it has overridden so much of a normal political debate,” he added. “I recognize that has contributed to the results.”
An exit survey released just after polls closed predicted the Boris Johnson-led Conservatives would get 368 of the 650 House of Commons seats and the Labour Party just 191, which would mark its worst result since before World War II. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262.
“It’s Corbyn,” said former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Johnson, when asked about the poor result. “We knew he was incapable of leading, we knew he was worse than useless at all the qualities you need to lead a political party.”
Early results showed the depth of Labour’s drubbing, with Conservatives winning a number of seats in working class towns in northern England, where they previously had trouble gaining any traction. Significantly, the Conservatives won the northwest England town of Workington, which was held by Labour for almost all of the last century, as well as Blythe Valley, which they have never held.
Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who is expected to lose her seat to the Conservatives, urged Corbyn to “announce he is resigning as leader of the Labour Party from his count today. He should have gone many, many, many months ago.”
Smeeth has headed the Jewish Labour Movement, which broke with Corbyn ahead of the election, accusing him of anti-Semitism.
“We have become the racist party, the nasty party because of the actions of our leader and the lack of actions of our leader,” she said.
An unnamed Labour MP who was facing the prospect of losing their seat told the Guardian that “The only upside of this is that Corbyn will have to go now. He can retire to the Chagos Islands. They own this lock, stock and barrel.”
Jon Lansman, head of the Momentum movement within Labour that had been among Corbyn’s staunchest backers, told ITV he thought Corbyn would not “overstay his welcome,” but advised that his ouster did not need to be rushed.
“Christmas is not far away. I don’t think decisions about this really need to be taken until the New Year.”
But Lansman maintained that the election’s focus on Brexit had sunk the party.
Corbyn’s team also blamed “Brexit fatigue”, saying voters were won over by Johnson’s promise to end years of debate about Britain’s EU exit.
But critics from the more centrist side of Labour rounded on the leader, while the hashtag #Corbynout was quickly trending on social media.
“Essentially the election was a referendum on Corbyn,” said Andrew Adonis, who served as a minister under former Labour premier Tony Blair.
An unnamed senior Labour source told the Guardian that Corbyn was the reason behind the poor results.
“The idea that you can blame all this on our Brexit policy is just bollocks. Speak to any candidate and they will tell you for every two doors where our Brexit position came up, the next eight doors would be that they had a problem with Jeremy Corbyn. His leadership was inevitably a problem and it meant it was very tough to cut through to the manifesto,” the source said. ““Anti-Semitism was a problem in London at the beginning of the campaign but in the middle of the campaign it became a problem in the rest of the country. People didn’t understand why he wouldn’t say sorry for that.”
Corbyn took over Britain’s main opposition Labour party with a vision to remodel the country along socialist lines, but looks to have led his party to its worst defeat since 1935.
To his supporters, the 70-year-old offered a chance to deliver a radical leftist agenda, shaking up the economy and reversing a decade of Conservative public spending cuts.
But the wider public failed to warm to him, a situation made worse by his refusal to take a position on Brexit and accusations of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorists.
Bearded and a teetotaler, with a love of making jam and spotting manhole covers, Corbyn was a lifelong campaigner on socialist causes who spent many years happily on the fringes of the Labour party.
But he put himself forward for the Labour leadership in 2015 to ensure a left-wing voice was represented — and surprised everyone by winning, propelled to power thanks to grassroots support.
He commands cult-like adoration from young supporters in England’s larger urban centres, and in the 2017 election used this to huge effect.
He held huge rallies around the country, and that year more than 100,000 people sang his name as he addressed the Glastonbury Festival.
But he lost some of his shine for many pro-European youngsters with his ambivalent stance on Brexit, and the wider public were not convinced.
He went into this election as the most unpopular opposition leader to have contested a British vote.
Corbyn caused some trouble for Johnson by claiming he was plotting to sell off the National Health Service in a “toxic” post-Brexit trade deal with US President Donald Trump.
His warnings of the impact of years of austerity also helped shift the debate, with the Conservatives promising more money for public services.
But with Brexit, he was accused of an absence of leadership on one of the biggest issues of the day.
There had already been a rebellion over his leadership after the June 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, over his lackluster performance in Labour’s official campaign to stay in.
A lifelong euroskeptic, he later agreed to Labour’s policy to call for a second referendum, but said he would stay neutral.
Corbyn comes from an impeccable socialist background — his parents met as activists in Britain during the Spanish Civil War.
But he admits he was “not an academically successful student.” He worked for trade unions before being elected to the House of Commons in 1983.
The Conservatives accused Corbyn of offering only more uncertainty over Brexit, and compared Corbyn to a desperate conspiracy theorist.
They also warned he was a security risk.
Corbyn has a long history of criticising British and US military interventions, and has been accused of sympathizing with proscribed terrorist organisations, from the IRA to Hamas.
They also highlighted allegations of anti-Semitism flourishing in the Labour movement under his stewardship.
Britain’s most senior rabbi suggested anti-Semitism was a “new poison” within the party, which had been “sanctioned from the very top.”
Corbyn failed to dampen the row during a television interview with the BBC, side-stepping repeated chances to apologise to Britain’s Jewish community.
He can also be tetchy and evasive when challenged, such as in 2018 when questioned whether he had laid a wreath for Palestinian terrorists four years previously.