Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has thrown his support behind new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – and called on the party to unite and turn their sights on challenging the Conservative Government.
Veteran left-winger Mr Corbyn won the Labour leadership contest by a huge landslide on Saturday – securing almost 60 per cent of the votes cast by party members.
In a result which marks a fundamental change of direction for the party, the Islington North MP defeated rivals Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall in the first round of counting, taking 251,417 (59.5%) of the 422,664 votes cast.
The stunning win completed a remarkable turnaround for the long-serving backbencher, who was a rank outsider when he finally mustered enough support to get his name on the ballot paper for the contest at the 11th hour.
His anti-austerity and anti-war policies won favour with grass-roots party members – even if they proved unpopular with many of his fellow MPs – to such an extent that he was the overwhelming favourite for the contest by the time the final votes had been cast. One of his first tasks as Leader of the Opposition will be unite a party split by the leadership battle.
He faced fierce criticism from former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, who warned the party faced electoral “annihilation” if he won power.
Leading Labour figures, such as shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt and leadership rival Liz Kendall, have announced they will not serve under him.
Also on his early to-do list will be his first meeting with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, at his first Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
However, Mr Wright – who himself backed Andy Burnham for the top job – has offered his congratulations to Mr Corbyn, as well as newly-installed Deputy Leader Tom Watson.
Mr Wright, who has among the throng of Labour politicians at the QEII conference centre in Westminster for the big verdict, said: “Congratulations to both Jeremy Corbyn and my old friend Tom Watson, on being elected leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party.
“I hope we can turn to fighting the Tories.”
One fellow MP already in Mr Corbyn’s corner is Easington MP Grahame Morris – who backed his leadership campaign. After 32 years on Labour’s backbenches, 66-year-old Mr Corbyn won only a handful of votes from his fellow MPs, but was swept to victory in the race to replace Ed Miliband by a surge of enthusiasm from members in the country, as well as newly-registered supporters.