LONDON (Reuters) - Angela Eagle, a senior lawmaker from Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, said on Saturday she would launch a bid to replace embattled socialist veteran Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.
Labour has been engulfed in a bitter internal crisis since Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union on June 23, adding to a sense of drift in British politics at a time when the ruling Conservatives are also divided and rudderless.
“On Monday morning I will announce my candidature for leader of the Labour Party. I will explain my vision for the country and the difference a strong Labour Party can make,” Eagle said in a statement.
She said Corbyn had failed to lead Labour lawmakers as an organised and effective force to hold the Conservatives to account and demonstrate they were ready to form a government in the event of an early national election.
Discontent with Corbyn, who spent three decades on the hard-left fringe of the party before a surprise wave of grassroots enthusiasm swept him to victory in a leadership contest last September, has been simmering for months among Labour lawmakers.
Many were unconvinced of Corbyn’s leadership ability and their misgivings exploded into open crisis after the EU referendum, with mass defections from his policy team and a motion of no confidence adopted by most Labour lawmakers.
The party’s official stance before the referendum had been to support staying in the EU, but critics accused Corbyn of campaigning so half-heartedly that many Labour voters were unaware of the party’s position or ignored it and voted “leave”.
The Conservatives are also in the midst of a leadership contest after Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU, announced on the morning after the referendum that he would resign.
Two women, interior minister Theresa May and junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom, are competing to replace Cameron as Conservative leader and prime minister. The victor is expected to be announced on Sept. 9.
Corbyn’s critics say that with Britain poised to negotiate an exit from the EU that risks being more painful than many voters anticipated, Labour needs to present a strong, united alternative to the Conservative’s ascendant anti-EU right wing.
A spokesman for Corbyn said after Eagle’s announcement that he would contest any leadership challenge.
“Jeremy is committed to fulfilling all his responsibilities as democratically elected leader and will not betray the hundreds of thousands of people who elected him for a different direction for the Labour Party and a different kind of politics,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Media reports in recent days have suggested there has been a new spike in Labour membership numbers since the Brexit vote, but it is unclear whether people were signing up to vote for or against Corbyn in the next leadership contest.
Eagle, who has been a member of parliament since 1992, held several junior ministerial posts during the 13 years that Labour was in office under former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
She is deemed more centrist than Corbyn and more likely to have broader appeal beyond the party membership.
Eagle was business and trade policy chief in Corbyn’s team until she quit on June 27 as part of the wave of resignations that plunged Labour into disarray.
Her statement on Saturday came after deputy Labour leader Tom Watson had announced that talks between key lawmakers and representatives of the trade unions, which support Labour financially and are allies of Corbyn, had broken down.
“Since the talks began Jeremy has publicly declared his intention to continue as leader come what may. This means there is no realistic prospect of reaching a compromise,” Watson said.
It is unclear what will happen to Labour if Corbyn is re-elected by grassroots members after the vast majority of the party’s lawmakers rejected him as leader. There has been speculation that the party would split.
Editing by Andrew Roche