Jeremy Corbyn has been comfortably re-elected leader of the UK opposition Labour Party.
The incumbent party leader and veteran left-winger won 61.8 percent of the just over 506,000 Labour Party members, trade unionists and registered supporters who voted in the leadership contest.
His only challenger was Owen Smith, the former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. Corbyn’s margin of victory was greater than when he was first elected as leader a year ago, as was the turnout of 77.6 percent.
Many members of the parliamentary party had opposed his leadership, especially in the wake of the vote for “Brexit” in the EU referendum in June.
Corbyn’s victory is due to Labour’s new members – 300,000 have joined since last year, making the party the largest in Europe. A change in the internal rules for electing the leader before last year’s contest has given the membership more weight.
Following the announcement ahead of the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, the leader immediately called for unity.
“We have much more in common than that which divides us. As far as I am concerned let’s wipe that slate clean from today and get on with the work we’ve got to do with our party together,” he told the gathering.
Owen Smith has congratulated Corbyn on his victory; however last week he accused Momentum, the grass-roots movement set up to support the leader, of intimidatory tactics in trying to impose a left-wing agenda.
Corbyn’s supporters had called the challenge to his position a “coup” led by Labour MPs, many of whom see the party under his leadership as too left-wing and unelectable. Some of his supporters have complained of a campaign of vilification in the media.
The 67-year-old has long sat on the left of the party, often among an isolated fringe voting against centrists such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and lobbying with others to restore more socialist policies. Thousands of former party members had left in the wake of the party’s centrist drive, and Blair’s decision actively to back the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. A peace campaigner, Corbyn is opposed to Britain having nuclear weapons.
Fellow lawmakers criticised him for a lack of leadership and what they said was a lukewarm campaign to keep Britain in the European Union, which he wants to reform. In late June, 172 of his colleagues passed a motion of no confidence.
The immediate question is whether more centrist Labour MPs who had opposed Corbyn will rally behind him.
Beyond that a battle lies ahead over future policy and whether the party can mount a serious challenge for power. The next general election is due in 2020.
Critics say the in-fighting has left a vacuum in opposition that has been filled by the Eurosceptic hard right. Corbyn himself has been accused of doing little to hold the government to account over its stance on Brexit, preferring instead to concentrate on domestic social policy.