Labour MP Clive Lewis appears to have backed down from challenging left wing party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
But the Labour right are still desperate for an opportunity to get rid of Corbyn—and will keep pressuring him to drop his left wing positions.
In an interview last Saturday Lewis said speculation that he was preparing to challenge Corbyn was “total bollocks”.
He has been touted as a possible challenger to Corbyn from the “soft” left of the party, and is backed by some former Corbyn supporters.
It came after Lewis resigned as Labour’s shadow business secretary on Wednesday of last week.
He quit the role to defy Corbyn and vote against a bill in parliament to begin the process of leaving the European Union (see left).
The Telegraph newspaper reported last Friday that Lewis had been “sounding out” support among Labour MPs for a potential challenge to Corbyn.
It also said that Guardian newspaper columnist and former Corbyn supporter Owen Jones had spoken to MPs to test support for Lewis.
Lewis then said rumours of a potential challenge were “fantasy politics” and that “nothing could be further from my mind”.
And Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, who is strongly linked with the attempt to remove Corbyn last summer said, “This is not the time for a leadership election.”
Yet the Labour right—and some on the soft left—are still desperate to get rid of Corbyn.
The right are still furious after Labour members and supporters overwhelmingly elected Corbyn in two successive leadership elections.
And some on the soft left accept the idea that Corbyn’s left wing politics make Labour unelectable, and want a figure like Lewis to appeal to the right.
They wanted to use Corbyn’s decision to vote for the bill to leave the EU to whip up anger against him among Labour members.
Many Corbyn supporters want to stay in the EU because they associate it with protecting migrants and workers’ rights.
The right and soft left hoped Corbyn supporters would abandon him over the issue in favour of Lewis.
Yet few Corbyn supporters will trust the Labour right—and the revolt against him among Labour members didn’t happen. Lewis could struggle to find support among Labour MPs.
Although the right want to get rid of Corbyn, many want a more right wing candidate.
The right still hope they can force Corbyn to resign—particularly if Labour does badly in two by-elections next week (see box).
In the meantime they will keep pressuring Corbyn to make concessions to them—particularly over defending migrants and free movement.
In a sign of the direction the right want to take Labour in, Watson said Labour could adopt a policy of regional immigration controls inside Britain.
These would mean migrants would only be allowed to live in certain parts of the country.
The right have already forced too many concessions out of Corbyn. He has dropped opposition to nuclear power, and has already said that Labour is “not wedded” to defending free movement.
The left has to defend Corbyn against the right’s attacks—not abandon him for a more right wing alternative.
But Corbyn also has to stand firm against right wing attempts to wring further concessions from him.
Stop Ukip in Stoke election
Labour faces defending two seats in parliamentary by-elections that are set to take place in Copeland in Cumbria and Stoke on Thursday of next week.
Many fear that Labour could lose in Cumbria, where its vote dropped under right wing MP Jamie Reed.
And in Stoke Central the racist Ukip party, which came second there at the last general election, wants to whip up racism to take the seat from Labour.
Socialist Worker is calling for a vote for Labour in both elections. They will be seen as referendums on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour—and Corbyn could be forced to resign as leader if Labour does badly.
The racist right will feel ecstatic if Ukip leader Paul Nuttall wins in Stoke.
Labour has rightly attacked Nuttall for his previous statements supporting privatisation of the NHS.
But Labour’s official campaign has not challenged Ukip over its racism.
Labour will be most effective if it both attacks the cuts and also confronts Ukip’s divisive racism.