Hundreds of people rallied outside Soas university in central London this evening, Wednesday, in support of left wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The rally ended shortly before reports emerged that Labour MP Angela Eagle was preparing to mount a leadership challenge against Corbyn.
But Corbyn’s supporters at the rally were determined to resist attempts by Labour MPs to get rid of him.
Corbyn told the rally that his mandate to lead the party “was given by hundreds of thousands or ordinary people” who wanted to “challenge the politics of austerity”.
He added that we was “very proud to be carrying on with that work—and very proud to be carrying on as leader of the Labour Party”.
The rally was called at around an hour’s notice late this afternoon by Labour left group Momentum. A similar event planned to take place at the TUC’s Congress House had been cancelled.
It came after a day of speculation over whether Corbyn would face a leadership challenge, triggering a fresh election.
Both Eagle and Labour MP Tom Watson had both been touted as potential challengers. It came after MPs voted by 172-40 yesterday for a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership.
But Corbyn still has the support of some Labour MPs. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the rally that the campaign to keep Corbyn as leader was “a battle for democracy in the Labour Party.”
He added, “We will not allow ourselves to be bullied in this way. We will continue in our parliamentary duties with the shadow cabinet we have put together. Jeremy will not be forced out.”
Crucially, Corbyn also has the support of trade union leaders.
Matt Wrack from the firefighters’ FBU union spoke at this evening’s rally. And general secretaries from ten trade unions today signed a letter calling on MPs to “respect the authority of the party’s leader”.
It added that “our members and millions of others will be looking with dismay at the events in parliament.
“It cannot be right to divide the Labour front bench at this time.
“We believe a leadership election would be an unwelcome distraction at this time of crisis.”
But the letter stops short of explicit support for Corbyn, saying only that his position “cannot and should not be challenged except through the proper democratic procedures.”
If Corbyn loses the support of the union leaders—particularly from large and powerful unions such as Unison and Unite—his chances of survival would be seriously weakened.
Union activists have to pressure their leaders to keep up their support for Corbyn. And they should demand that their unions refuse any funding for Labour MPs that voted against Corbyn’s leadership.
Corbyn also still has the support of huge numbers of people both in and out of the Labour Party.
McDonnell told the rally “If a challenger comes forward and there is an election, we will need your support.”
Corbyn’s strength comes from the hundreds of thousands of people who support him and could be mobilised in his defence. But that support has to be mobilised in the workplaces and on the streets—not restricted to Labour Party meetings.
Feeding Corbyn’s support into broader movements against austerity and racism is the way to make sure Corbyn beats the right.
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