The 2016 Labour Party leadership election was called when a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party arose following criticism of his approach to the Remain campaign in the referendum on membership of the European Union and questions about his leadership of the party.
After a period of tension over Corbyn's leadership, the immediate trigger to events was the Leave result of the referendum. Hilary Benn, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, was sacked by Corbyn on 25 June after Benn expressed no confidence in him. More than two dozen members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned over the following two days, and a no-confidence vote was supported by 172 MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, against 40 supporting Corbyn. It was reported that Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader, told Corbyn that he would face a challenge to his position as leader. Corbyn stated that he would not resign.
By the end of June, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith were being promoted as intending to contest the leadership. Eagle announced her candidacy on 11 July, and Smith did likewise on 13 July. The National Executive Committee decided that, as the incumbent, Corbyn would be automatically included on the ballot without requiring nominations from the parliamentary party; some political analysts had previously predicted that Corbyn would struggle to obtain the requisite number of signatures had that been required.
Eagle pulled out of the race on 19 July, leaving Smith to challenge Corbyn for the leadership in a head-to-head race; Eagle said that she would back Smith after she had attracted fewer nominations. Smith told the BBC that Eagle was a "star" and that she would be "at [his] right hand" if he won the leadership.
The result was announced on 24 September 2016. Jeremy Corbyn won the election with 313,209 votes, increasing his share of the vote from 59.5% to 61.8% compared with the result of the 2015 leadership election, and receiving some 62,000 more votes than in 2015.
Jeremy Corbyn was one of four candidates for the Labour Party leadership in the 2015 leadership election triggered by the resignation of Ed Miliband as leader. He qualified for the ballot at the last minute, nominated by 36 MPs, the majority of whom did not support him but felt that the party should be able to vote on a wider range of candidates. Despite being the most unpopular option with the Parliamentary Labour Party, with only 13 MPs voting for him, he received 59.5% of the first preference votes from an electorate consisting of party membership, members of affiliated trade unions and supporters who paid £3 to have a vote.
When it became clear that Jeremy Corbyn would win the leadership election in 2015, the possibility of a challenge to his leadership was predicted by then Labour MP Simon Danczuk. A leadership challenge was then much discussed in the British press in November due to a split in the parliamentary party over the prospect of Britain's participation in air strikes in Syria. Another potential challenge was predicted in April after Ken Livingstone's allegedly anti-semitic comments led to his suspension, and Shadow Cabinet members allegedly held talks with plotters. The Guardian reported that "a small group of Labour MPs and advisers had been telling journalists for months to 'expect movement' against Corbyn on 24 June."
The pressure on Corbyn intensified as a result of the European Union referendum and dissatisfaction with his level of support for the losing Remain campaign. On 25 June, a 'Saving Labour' campaign website was created, to encourage members of the public to email MPs to urge them not to back Corbyn. On 25 June Hilary Benn, a critic of Corbyn, contacted members of the shadow cabinet to inform them that he had lost confidence in Corbyn. He was subsequently sacked as shadow Foreign Secretary, triggering a series of Shadow Cabinet resignations; at least 20 individuals resigned over the next few days. An article in The Observer, published online at 10pm on 25 June, claimed that Benn had been sounding out a challenge against Corbyn.
Corbyn assembled a new Shadow Cabinet, and insisted that he would not resign. A vote of no confidence in Corbyn was made by the parliamentary party on 28 June, with Corbyn losing the vote by 172 to 40, with four spoiled ballots and thirteen absentees. However Labour Party rules did not require Corbyn to resign as a result of the vote. Corbyn struggled to fill a new Shadow Cabinet, which had to be reduced in size from 31 to 25. The Scottish National Party sought to argue that they should become the official Opposition in the Commons with Labour unable to fill the role.
Corbyn continued to refuse to step down as leader, saying that the ballot had "no constitutional legitimacy" and he would not "betray" the members that elected him in the 2015 leadership election. In order to challenge an incumbent leader, a serving Labour MP needed to gather the support of at least 20% of Labour MPs (15% of Labour MPs and also MEPs being required if a leader has resigned). Angela Eagle, a former member of his Shadow Cabinet who resigned after Benn's sacking, was said on 30 June to have the number of backers required to launch a challenge. Separate meetings to discuss the situation were held by Corbyn and Watson with UNITE trade union leader Len McCluskey on 5 July.
Following the sacking of Hilary Benn, and the vote of no confidence in Corbyn's leadership, over 100,000 new members were reported to have joined the Labour Party by 8 July, taking membership numbers above 500,000. Both supporters and opponents of Corbyn signed up new members.
By 8 July there were no declared leadership challengers, Corbyn had not resigned, and both his supporters and some critics considered that he was in a good position to win any leadership vote. Corbyn challenged the rebels to stand against him, and it was reported that Eagle had secured the support of at least the requisite number of nominations needed to launch a leadership bid. The following day, Eagle announced that she would formally launch her campaign on 11 July. In her speech, Eagle said "Jeremy Corbyn is unable to provide the leadership this huge task needs."
The party's National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on 12 July was expected to consider the arrangements for an election. The arrangements were decided by secret ballot with the vote 18 to 14 in favour of the incumbent leader being automatically on the ballot. The NEC also decided to not allow members who joined the party in the past six months to vote in the leadership election, so the approximately 130,000 new members who had joined since the European Union referendum would be unable to vote. Instead registered supporters were given a period of two days to register, at a fee of £25, to be entitled to vote. Additionally the NEC ruled that local Constituency Labour Parties should not hold members' meetings during the leadership election period.
There was pressure before the nominations close on 20 July for one of the two challengers, either Smith or Eagle, to withdraw in order to unify the anti-Corbyn campaign. The two agreed between themselves that whoever had fewest nominations from MPs/MEPs by the end of the working day on 19 July would withdraw in favour of the other. Eagle, with about 20 fewer nominations, did so, leaving Smith as the only challenger to Corbyn. She pledged her support for his campaign. Smith explained that his decision to run for leader was partly because the future of the Labour party was at risk, stating that the "possibility of split is dangerously real".
The leadership race caused a crisis ("fighting for its life") for the Labour Party according to Andrew Rawnsley, chief political commentator for The Observer. On 24 July 2016, he discussed the "mutiny" against Corbyn by the majority of MPs who voted against him in the no confidence motion but warned that they "do not have the backing of a large chunk of the party selectorate [party members who will vote in the leadership election] that picks the leader... [but that selectorate] is wildly unrepresentative of the voters that Labour must persuade if the party is to survive as a plausible opposition, never mind become a viable competitor for power."
Leadership contender Owen Smith had supported the campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, in the referendum on Britain's membership in June 2016. During an interview with the BBC, Smith opined that those who had voted with the Leave faction had done so "because they felt a sense of loss in their communities, decline, cuts that have hammered away at vital public services and they haven't felt that any politicians, certainly not the politicians they expect to stand up for them, the Labour Party, has been standing up for them."
The election was conducted under a pure "one member, one vote" (OMOV) system, as had been the case at the 2015 leadership election. Candidates would be elected by members and registered and affiliated supporters, who all receive a maximum of one vote and all votes will be weighted equally. This means that, for example, members of Labour-affiliated trade unions need to register as affiliated Labour supporters to vote.
To stand, challengers needed to be nominated by at least 20% of the combined membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party, i.e. 51 MPs/MEPs, at the time. As the incumbent, Jeremy Corbyn, by decision of the National Executive Committee, was automatically included on the ballot. The vote, as in previous elections, was held under the alternative vote (instant-runoff) system.
The Special Conference at the end of the Collins Review concluded that all selection timetables should be, once started, as short as possible. The Collins Report also states: "The NEC should agree the detailed procedures for leadership elections including issues regarding registration, fees, and freeze dates". The party required members to hold six months' continuous party membership on the freeze date to be eligible to take part in a selection.
The meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee on 12 July 2016 set a timetable and procedure for the election. Though the party confirmed the timetable would be released when the leadership contest process begins on Thursday 14 July, the timetable was leaked immediately following the NEC meeting. The voting eligibility freeze date for membership is 12 January 2016 – those who joined after that date will have to pay £25 to sign up as a registered supporter in the two day window during the week of 18 July. Members of affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and other affiliated organisations who individually sign up as an "affiliated supporter" to the Labour Party must have been a member of that organisation on or before 12 January 2016; the deadline to sign up as an "affiliated supporter" is 8 August 2016. Affiliated supporters already on the Party's membership system will be eligible to vote, subject to affiliates reconfirming their eligibility. Originally, many people sought to join organisations such as UNITE to gain a vote without paying Labour's £25 "registered supporter" fee; however, due to the freeze date for voter eligibility also applying to "affiliated supporters", this union route will not be a possible way to gain a vote.
On 8 August 2016 the High Court decided that the decision to disbar from voting members who joined in the six month preceding the election being called was contrary to the Labour Party Rule Book, and they were entitled to vote. This decision cast some doubt on the election timetable. In a critical passage of his judgement, Mr Justice Hickinbottom found that "Furthermore, there is no evidence of any suggestion by the Party, the NEC, the Collins Review or any member of the Party that a freeze date could be retrospective, until the Procedures Paper that Mr McNicol prepared for the 12 July 2016 NEC meeting. Indeed, the very opposite." The Procedures sub-committee of the NEC immediately appealed the decision, and on 12 August 2016 the Court of Appeal reversed the High Court's decision. It concluded that under the party rules, the NEC had discretion to set any reasonable criteria for members to vote, and that there was no reason why an eligibility freeze date could not be in the past.
The election timetable was as follows:
There had been some doubt over whether Corbyn would have been able to stand if he had needed to obtain 51 nominations like his challengers, as only 40 MPs supported him in the no-confidence motion and because the demand for Corbyn's resignation was the "majority position" of Labour's 20 MEPs.
On 12 July the National Executive Committee ruled that as the incumbent, Corbyn would automatically be included on the ballot by an 18–14 vote. The party's lawyers, GRM Law, as well as James Goudie, had argued the party's constitution required Corbyn to secure nominations, but conflicting legal advice obtained by the Labour Party leadership and UNITE from Doughty Street Chambers and Michael Mansfield, respectively, argued Corbyn should not need to obtain MP/MEP support to be placed on the ballot of a leadership election, as the party rules only mentioned the need for challengers to receive nominations, and did not explicitly specify the same requirement for the incumbent.
During the last leadership challenge on an incumbent leader (in 1988, with Corbyn a supporter of the challenge), the incumbent, Neil Kinnock, did seek and obtain nominations, but some commentators, including BBC's Andrew Neil, believed that Kinnock may have done this voluntarily just to show his strength. Some political analysts had predicted that Corbyn would have had difficulty getting the requisite number of nominations from MPs/MEPs to stand, if this had been a requirement for his name to appear on the ballot.
The results of an Ipsos MORI survey released on 14 July 2016 indicated that 66% of those surveyed (representative of 18+ adults in Great Britain) believed that the Labour party needed a new leader before the 2020 elections. As well, only 23 percent believed that Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister while Theresa May had an approval rating of 55 percent.
As the incumbent, Jeremy Corbyn, following an interpretation by the National Executive Committee of disputed Labour Party rules, was automatically included on the ballot. To be placed on the ballot, challengers to the Leader had to be nominated by at least 20% of the combined membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party, i.e. 51 MPs/MEPs. An MP or MEP who nominates a candidate does not have to subsequently support, or vote for, that candidate. In the past, some MPs have stated that they nominated only to ensure that a candidate (such as Corbyn) got onto the ballot paper; however, it was (correctly) expected that Corbyn would face a single "unity candidate" after Angela Eagle and Owen Smith agreed that the person with fewer nominations from MPs/MEPs should step aside (which Eagle later did).
In an interview, Smith offered the following endorsement of the former contender: "Angela is a star in the Labour firmament. She will be at my right hand throughout this contest and if I am successful, Angela will be alongside me as my right hand woman." He explained that his decision to run for leader was partly because the future of the Labour party was at risk, stating that the "possibility of split is dangerously real".
A High Court legal challenge, brought by Labour donor and former parliamentary candidate Michael Foster contesting the NEC's interpretation of the rules to allow Corbyn to be a candidate without having to secure nominations from Labour MPs/MEPs, was heard on 26 July 2016. Corbyn applied to the court, and was accepted, to be the second defendant with his own legal team as Corbyn was "particularly affected and particularly interested in the proper construction of the rules" and that General Secretary of the Labour Party Iain McNicol was "being expected to vigorously defend a position which he regarded as incorrect prior to the NEC decision". The High Court ruled that there was no basis to challenge the NEC's decision that Corbyn should automatically be on the ballot.
Prior to her withdrawal from the race on 19 July 2016, Eagle had been nominated by 72 MPs/MEPs. By that time, Smith had been nominated by 90 MPs/MEPs. Smith received a further 82 nominations following Eagle's withdrawal in advance of the nomination deadline at 17:00 the following day. A total of 89 Labour MPs/MEPs did not nominate any candidate by 19 July; 79 MPs/MEPs did not nominate by the close of nominations.
|The two candidates (challenger nominated by the Parliamentary Labour Party and European Parliamentary Labour Party)|
|Candidate||Born||Constituency||Most recent position||Announced||Campaign website
26 May 1949
|MP for Islington North
|Leader of the Labour Party;
Leader of the Opposition
(People powered politics)
2 May 1970
|MP for Pontypridd
|Shadow Secretary of State for
Work and Pensions
|13 July 2016||Owen2016
|18/19 July: 90||35.86%|
172 / 251
|Undeclared||18/19 July: 89||35.46%|
|20 July: 79||31.47%|
|Candidate||Born||Constituency||Most recent position||Announced||Campaign website
(endorsed Owen Smith)
17 February 1961
|MP for Wallasey
|Shadow First Secretary of State;
Shadow Secretary of State for
Business, Innovation and Skills
|11 July 2016
Withdrew: 19 July 2016
|18/19 July: 72||28.69%|
The Labour Party initially confirmed that there would be nine official debates between Corbyn and Smith; of which seven actually took place.
|Thursday 4 August; 19.00||Choose Labour's next Prime Minister||The Labour Party||All Nations Centre||Catrin Haf Jones (journalist, ITV Cymru Wales)|
|Thursday 11 August; 19.00||Hilton Newcastle Gateshead||Sophy Ridge (Senior Political Correspondent, Sky News)|
|Wednesday 17 August; 09.00||Victoria Derbyshire||BBC News||Nottingham Trent University||Victoria Derbyshire (presenter, Victoria Derbyshire)|
|Thursday 18 August; 19.00||Choose Labour's next Prime Minister||The Labour Party||National Conference Centre||Carl Dinnen (Political Correspondent, ITV News)|
|Monday 22 August||Debate cancelled ||Channel 4||London, England||N/A|
|Thursday 25 August; 19.00||Choose Labour's next Prime Minister||The Labour Party||Scottish Exhibition and
|Lindsay McIntosh (Scottish Political Editor, The Times)|
|Thursday 1 September||Debate cancelled ||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Tuesday 6 September; 19.00||Faith and the Future of Labour||Good Faith Partnership/
|The Oasis Centre, Waterloo||Tim Livesey (former adviser to Archbishop Williams,|
former Chief of Staff to Ed Miliband)
|Thursday 8 September; 21.00||Question Time||BBC One||Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham||David Dimbleby (presenter, Question Time)|
|Wednesday 14 September; 21.00||Corbyn v Smith: The Battle for Labour||Sky News||Sky Studios, Isleworth, London||Faisal Islam (Political Editor, Sky News)|
The polls in this section have been undertaken by media pollsters known to use industry standard polling methods.
The polls below were conducted after nominations for the leadership ballot closed.
The polls below show voting intention amongst all those eligible to vote in the leadership election (Labour Party members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters).
|YouGov/The Times, 25–29 August 2016, 1,236 eligible voters[c]|
|Total selectorate |
The polls below asked Labour Party local councillors across the country how they planned to vote in the leadership election.
|Poll source||Date(s) administered||Sample size||Jeremy Corbyn||Owen Smith||Don't Know|
|Labour History Research/Anglia Ruskin University||21–25 July 2016||350 Labour councillors[d]||28%||60%||11%|
The polls below asked Labour supporters across the country how they would vote in the leadership election if they were eligible.
|Poll source||Date(s) administered||Sample size||Jeremy Corbyn||Owen Smith||Don't Know||Would Not Vote|
|BMG Research/London Evening Standard||11–15 August 2016||334 current Labour voters[e]||66%||34%||–||–|
|ComRes/Sunday Mirror/Independent on Sunday||10–12 August 2016||347 current Labour voters[e]||47%||25%||28%||–|
|BMG Research/London Evening Standard||22–26 July 2016||347 current Labour voters[e]||75%||25%||–||–|
|Opinium/The Observer||19–22 July 2016||~692 current Labour voters[e]||54%||22%||20%||4%|
The polls below asked voters across the country how they would vote in the leadership election if they were eligible.
|Poll source||Date(s) administered||Sample size||Jeremy Corbyn||Owen Smith||Don't Know||Would Not Vote|
|BMG Research/London Evening Standard||11–15 August 2016||1,668 British residents[f]||42%||58%||–||–|
|ComRes/Sunday Mirror/Independent on Sunday||10–12 August 2016||2,017 British residents[f]||23%||37%||40%||–|
|BMG Research/London Evening Standard||22–26 July 2016||1,545 British residents[f]||43%||57%||–||–|
The polls below were conducted before nominations for the leadership closed and therefore may include Labour politicians who will not be candidates. Polls show both free choices among all candidates and constrained choices among particular pairs of candidates.
|YouGov/The Times||15–18 July 2016||1,031 Labour Party members[g]||58%||34%||–||–||–||–||–|
|YouGov/The Times||27–30 June 2016||1,203 Labour Party members[h]||36%||7%||9%||4%||2%||–||3%|
The polls below were conducted prior to the referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the EU taking place. In the aftermath of this event, Jeremy Corbyn was accused by his opponents of undermining the campaign to remain in the European Union, and faced a string of significant resignations from his Shadow Cabinet.
|Hilary Benn||Andy Burnham||Yvette Cooper||Jeremy Corbyn||Angela Eagle||Dan Jarvis||John McDonnell||Lisa Nandy||Owen Smith||Tom Watson||Other/|
|YouGov/The Times||9–11 May 2016||1,031 Labour Party members[h]||4%||10%||8%||43%||2%||9%||6%||1%||1%||2%||Undecided 8%|
|YouGov/Election Data||11–15 February 2016||1,217 members of the
Labour Party selectorate[i]
|Candidate||Party members||Registered supporters||Affiliated supporters||Total|
Turnout was 77.6%.
The following section shows how votes from full party members were cast within each nation of the UK. Breakdowns were not made available for registered supporters or affiliated supporters.
If Corbyn had not been automatically allowed to stand, he may have struggled to obtain the 51 nominations necessary from Labour MPs or MEPs to stand.
said voters backed Brexit because they didn't feel the Labour Party stood up for them,
Jeremy Corbyn has called for "calm" and "dignity" from Labour members after leadership challenger Angela Eagle's constituency office was vandalised.
Angela Eagle: ... Neil Kinnock in 1988 ... had to get 51 nominations ... Andrew Neil: Well it is not clear he had to do it. And even Mr Kinnock cannot remember if he had to do it or whether he did it to show his strength.
My assumption was that the incumbent would be a candidate automatically, and that the nominations gathered by Neil Kinnock against Tony Benn in 1988 were purely for show.