Jeremy Corbyn has declared that he is “not expecting” any more Labour MPs to quit - despite losing two backbenchers within a month.
The Labour leader also denied that he had “lost control” of his Parliamentary party in the wake of the resignation of former Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt.
Hunt announced on Friday that he was quitting as MP for Stoke-on-Trent in order to become the new director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
HuffPost UK understands that the MP first alerted the Labour leader’s office to his plans on Thursday and called Corbyn on the phone on Friday morning, after handing in his resignation letter at Westminster.
But his surprise move came just weeks after Labour’s Jamie Reed had also revealed he was stepping down to take a job at Sellafield nuclear power plant in Cumbria.
The party now faces two tricky by-elections in both Stoke and in Reed’s Copeland constituency, with UKIP and the Tories snapping at Labour’s heels.
Corbyn was sanguine about the double departure, using a pooled TV interview to say that he wished Hunt well in his new role.
Asked if he was “secretly pleased” at the departure of a critic of his leadership, he replied: “No, I don’t want anyone to resign, I don’t want to lose MPs.
“I’m not expecting any other MPs to resign. In most Parliaments there are a number of by-elections, so if they come, they come.”
Some ‘moderate’ MPs believe however that it is only a matter of time before others follow suit.
The party’s whips are braced for more resignations. One MP predicted that “scores” of their colleagues are also on the lookout for new jobs ahead of the next general election.
When pressed on what the resignations meant for his authority as leader, Corbyn said: “I haven’t lost control of the party. The party isn’t out of control.
“We are a very large party with a growing membership, we have a vibrant policy-making process. We have a party which is very active.”
Both Hunt and Reed are seen as ‘Blarites’ and have been highly critical of Corbyn’s leadership, claiming that he lacks the broad appeal needed for Labour to win a general election.
In his resignation letter, Hunt stressed he has ‘no desire to rock the boat’, but he had a clear warning about Corbyn’s leadership.
“As a deeply patriotic British citizen, I believe our country needs a strong Opposition and credible, alternative Labour government,” he wrote.
Corbyn thanked the MP for his service and wished him well in his new job running the prestigious museum in West London.
Corbyn supporters argued that in fact his second leadership victory had cemented his position and was forcing his critics to either back him or consider their future.
UKIP, which came second in Stoke-on-Trent in the 2015 general election, claimed that they would “replace” Hunt in the vacant seat just as they would replace Labour in the north in coming years.
Labour had a majority of 5,000 at the last election over UKIP, but the Tories polled 7,000 votes and if the contest narrows to a straight two-horse race, Nigel Farage’s party could clinch it.
The Liberal Democrats were traditionally second in the seat but saw their vote collapse in 2015. If they revive as they have in other areas of the country, Labour could be squeezed by pro-EU and anti-EU parties.
The by-election will be a key test for new leader Paul Nuttall, who may face calls to stand himself in the Staffordshire constituency.
But while Corbyn sounded relaxed at the resignation, Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson made clear his dismay that yet another Labour MP was quitting.
“I am disappointed to see a talented MP like Tristram step down,” he said.
“His departure will be keenly felt by Parliament and by the Labour Party but I know he will continue to champion Stoke-on-Trent’s proud industrial heritage in his new role at the Victoria and Albert Museum.”