A bitter battle over Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the EU referendum campaign has erupted as Labour MPs blamed him for the huge Brexit vote in the party’s heartlands.
The Labour leader’s allies moved swiftly to defend his work-rate and contribution to the Remain campaign, but the backlash began in earnest among those who felt he failed to connect with working class voters.
Amid rumours that one MP would publicly call for Corbyn to quit on Friday, he was due to hit the breakfast airwaves to defend himself ahead of a crucial meeting of the Shadow Cabinet at 10am.
A new ‘commission’ on migration and workers’ rights could be unveiled by the Labour leader to meet voters’ concerns, some sources suggested.
In area after area, Labour’s heartlands backed Leave by big margins, with turnout at record highs and many voters turning up to the polling station for the first time since the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.
A leaked memo sent to Labour MPs today asked them to insist Corbyn "led from the front in this campaign" when quizzed on TV.
The script, seen by The Huffington Post UK, also asks Labour MPs to claim "Corbyn has showed that he is far closer to the centre of gravity of the British public than other politicians".
But the results sparked fresh tensions between Corbyn - who was elected on a landslide by Labour party members last year - and his own MPs, many of whom feel he lacks the reach to win over Tory voters or even keep his own supporters to win a general election in 2020.
Many MPs felt that Corbyn badly misjudged the mood of Labour voters, by stressing the benefits of immigration and focusing instead on how the EU protected workers' rights.
The Labour leader also suffered from his own long record of being opposed to Brussels as a 'bosses' Europe', being seen as less than enthusiastic about the whole concept of the EU. In one interview he said he would mark the EU as '7/10'. He also recently opposed plans for an EU-US free trade deal.
A key member of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign told HuffPostUK: “Jeremy hasn't pulled his weight. Even if we had won, it would have been despite not because of him.”
One Labour MP said that Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had failed to grasp that fears over unlimited migration from the EU was the big issue of the referendum, as well as a sense of patriotism.
“The EU referendum simply shone a light on how utterly out of touch Corbyn and McDonnell are with so many traditional Labour voters outside of London,” the MP said.
“Jeremy made the biggest issue of concern for traditional Labour voters thinking of voting Leave - ie the impact of freedom of movement - his almost sole reason why Britain should remain. It was a sort of political suicide of genius proportions.”
Another Labour MP said that they feared that a snap general election would be called by the Tories to exploit Labour’s weakness, and up to 60 seats could be lost in a landslide. “Seats with majorities of more than 7,000 could go,” the MP said.
A senior Labour source hit back, telling HuffPost UK the Corbyn was “in the top two trusted voices in the debate and has been ever-present” in the campaign.
“He has made numerous speeches, been at dozens of rallies, done a TV Debate and has made innumerable statements. Jeremy Corbyn has strongly led the Labour IN campaign,” they said.
Former leader Ed Miliband said that the party had to try to "understand" what it had done wrong.
But in one outburst, Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant said: "I might go and punch him because he's a tosspot and he left the party in the state it's in."
Many Labour MPs blame Miliband for changing the party's rules to allow in new members, many of whom voted in huge numbers for Corbyn in 2015.
Reacting to the night’s results, a Labour HQ source tried to blame the result on Labour voters’ anger with the Tory government.
”A significant minority of Labour voters have undoubtedly voted for Leave. After David Cameron and the Tories made this a referendum on them and their leadership, many of the areas hardest hit by this Government’s unfair policies like Sunderland have taken the opportunity this referendum as a means to kick a Conservative government that is out of touch.”
But Labour MP John Mann, who backed the Brexit campaign, said it was clear that “Labour was out of touch” with its own voters, from the north to the midlands and even Wales.
And he was scathing about Labour HQ’s response.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said that the result underlined his own fear that the party’s voters wanted a curbs on the freedom of movement on EU workers and said Labour would have to react.
McDonnell said that the result was more of a giant ‘by-election’, a protest vote against the Tories by Labour voters.
“I’ve toured round the country.. the result is exactly as I thought…there is a disaffection....we've done our best to try and turn that round,” he told the BBC.
"Clearly people think we haven't been listening enough. I think we have to look at free movement of labour.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC that there were “lessons for the Labour party about a whole set of things...not just immigration”.
Although Scotland and London were the key Remain results, Labour HQ sources tried to blame the SNP at one point during the night.
“Turnout in Scotland has been considerably lower than expected. The SNP, the dominant party which ran huge campaigns for the independence referendum, UK election and Scottish elections, has run a lacklustre campaign with minimal ground activity,” the source said.
"Sturgeon had more to say about criticising the Remain camp than making the positive case for Europe and she was nowhere to be seen until the dying days of the campaign.”
But that defence was greeted with ridicule by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and many SNP voters.
Allies of Alan Johnson suspected that the leadership would try to blame him for the defeat, even though he had worked nearly every day on the party’s campaign.
A Labour HQ source told HuffPost a run-down of Corbyn’s campaign events:
“10 EU rallies, with speeches and meetings in London, Bristol, Stroud, Newquay, Perranporth, Cardiff, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Runcorn, Manchester, Truro, Sheffield, Widnes, Doncaster, Rotherham, Hastings, Brighton, Dundee, Aberdeen and Birmingham.
“These included a meeting with student nurses in Birmingham, a factory in Runcorn, a clean beaches event in Truro and campaigning with activists in Scotland.
“Launched the Labour In bus and the Ad Van.
“A debate on Sky News with Faisal Islam, also talked about the EU on the Agenda and the Last Leg. Appeared on the Andrew Marr show twice and on Peston on Sunday.
“Written two op-eds, one in the Observer and another in the Mirror.
“Reached more than 10 million people on social media.
“6 statements to the House of Commons and 10 PMQs on the EU.”
And Johnson’s team offered his own contributions:
“Alan Johnson, Chair of the Labour In for Britain campaign visited over 100 Labour constituencies across the United Kingdom, with over a thousand miles on the campaign bus in the Short Campaign, leading Labour's positive campaign for Britain to Remain in the European Union.
He also gave around 20 keynote speeches, represented Labour In at 10 major TV Debates, and gave over 65 interviews in just a few weeks.
He led the campaign from the start and secured endorsements for the campaign from 92 per cent of Labour MPs and all the major Labour-affiliated trade unions.
Alan was responsible for securing almost all of the over £4 million in funding from donors and unions, double the original target, which enabled the Labour campaign to cover over 5,500 miles, print 20 million leaflets, and spend over £1 million on targeted digital advertising.
Alan played a key behind-the-scenes role, leading the campaign from December
He held high-level meetings with key politicians and HQ officials regularly, and daily in the campaign period.
He made crucial decisions about messaging, direct mail, galvanising Labour MPs to campaign by holding regular meetings with them and co-ordinating briefing materials for them to take to their constituencies.
He worked closely with a range of key former Labour figures during the campaign such as Gordon Brown, David and Ed Miliband.
He also set up and directed a national network of regional co-ordinators who made sure that Labour's field activity was effective and energised, as well as securing funding for and overseeing the recruitment of 70 regional organisers, the biggest recruitment drive in Labour’s history.
He was also responsible for presenting to the NEC and gaining their support to swing the Party machinery fully behind the campaign, unlike CCHQ which was unable to take part.”
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