Corbyn to quit early next year as UK Labour smashed in election

After resisting calls to step down, Corbyn now says he will go after vote held for new party chief; Labour hampered by stance on Brexit and widespread accusations of anti-Semitism

British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON (AP) —The Labour Party’s crushing defeat at the hands of turned-off voters will bring the left-wing party a new leader — ending Jeremy Corbyn’s unsuccessful reign — and give it an urgent task: To recover the allegiance of its core working class voters.

Traditional Labour voters in the north and central parts of England deserted the party in droves, allowing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives — for decades seen by Labour backers as the anti-union party of the London elite — to make unprecedented gains.

Johnson’s clarion call to “get Brexit done” proved more appealing than Corbyn’s two-pronged approach, which raised the prospect of yet more delay in the already slow Brexit process.

It will fall to a new leader to come up with a strategy that might bring the party back to power, or at least restore it as a credible opposition force. Corbyn said Friday he will not lead Labour into another general election, but resisted calls to step down immediately.

He later said an internal election to choose a new party leader to replace him will take place early next year and that he will step down then.

Corbyn’s party did relatively well in the 2017 vote, depriving Theresa May of a majority in Parliament, but imploded in Thursday’s election. Corbyn was bedeviled by concerns about his fuzzy Brexit policy, the cost of the party’s ambitious social plans, and worries about tolerance of anti-Semitism in his inner circle.

Britain’s chief 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 apologize to Britain’s Jewish community.

He was also tetchy and evasive when challenged, such as in 2018 when questioned whether he had laid a wreath for Palestinian terrorists four years previously.

Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. (UK Parliament)

Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who lost 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.

As bitter recriminations began about the failed campaign, former Labour Party Home Secretary Alan Johnson called Corbyn “a disaster on the doorstep. Everyone knew that he couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag.”

The results also showed that the ever-cheerful Johnson — fond of saying Britain is the greatest country in the world — connected more easily with voters than the often-dour Corbyn, whose claims that Labour would address rising inequality did not gain traction.

Ian Murray, a Labour legislator who won re-election in Scotland, said the party’s existence will be threatened if it doesn’t learn from the across-the-board defeats. “This party must listen, this party must respond, or this party will die,” he warned.

In this December 9, 2019 file photo, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a rally outside Bristol City Council while on the election campaign trail, in Bristol, England. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP)

He said the party needs not just to replace Corbyn but also to change the world view he brought to the leadership.

“For the sake of the Labour movement, for the sake of the Labour Party, but more importantly for the sake of the country, not only does the person have to go but the policy and the ideology has to go as well,” he said.

Corbyn early Friday indicated his desire to preside over a period of “reflection” in which the party would regroup, a strategy that seems designed to make sure that “Corbynism” — his embrace of European-style socialism with an expanded role for the state — does not end once he is replaced.

He may face stiff opposition, however, from Labour figures who want the party to move back to the political center, as defined by more successful figures including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and even Ed Miliband, who was beaten by the Conservatives in 2015 but did not suffer a drubbing of this magnitude.

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