Prisoner of circumstance? Labour chief Corbyn wants to quit, but sources say allies won’t let him

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn © Paul Hackett
Beleaguered Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will face a leadership challenge from former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle after ignoring mounting pressure to resign.

Eagle, one of 20 shadow cabinet members that have quit since Sunday, is expected to announce on Thursday that she will run as a “unity” candidate.

Corbyn, however, has shown no signs of budging, saying in a speech earlier this week that he intends to “carry on with his work” and defying calls from Prime Minister David Cameron, former Labour leader Ed Miliband, and deputy leader Tom Watson to stand down from his post.

Some MPs have suggested that Corbyn is ready to quit, but is being persuaded by those on the left of the party to remain in power.

On Wednesday, Watson blamed shadow chancellor John McDonnell for refusing to allow Corbyn to step down, describing McDonnell’s intervention as a “great tragedy.”

“He’s obviously been told to stay by his close ally John McDonnell and they’re a team and they’ve decided that they’re going to tough this out. So it looks like the Labour Party is heading for some form of contested election,” Watson told the BBC.

A senior Labour Party source cited by The Times alleged that Corbyn’s strategy chief, Seumas Milne, was also advising the leader against stepping down.

“This stuff about him wanting to leave but being persuaded to stay by Seumas and McDonnell is true,” the source told the paper.

McDonnell dismissed the reports as “ludicrous,” while a spokesperson for Corbyn denied the reports, saying, “That allegation is ridiculous. Jeremy Corbyn is determined to carry out the job he was elected to do.”

The shadow chancellor, one of Corbyn’s chief allies, attacked those pressuring Corbyn to quit, branding them “bullies.”

Speaking to students in London on Wednesday, he said, “It was like a lynch mob without the rope. If Jeremy had walked on water during the campaign he would have been blamed for the loss. What we are watching is a leadership coup.”

More than 60 Labour frontbenchers have resigned since last week’s vote for a Brexit.

READ MORE: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn loses vote of confidence

So far, however, Corbyn has held onto his huge grassroots support and staunch backing from trade unions in the face of the post-referendum backlash.

A number of union leaders have issued a joint statement saying that Corbyn has a “resounding mandate” and warning that a leadership contest would be an “unnecessary distraction.”