Richard Leonard’s closeness to Jeremy Corbyn is a “fatal weakness” and the Scottish Labour leader should quit, a former Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) chairman has said.
Lord Soley said Mr Leonard should resign as Scottish Labour leader and put the party’s future ahead of his own feelings, warning that the future of the United Kingdom is at stake.
The intervention from the Labour peer, who ran the PLP during the Tony Blair era, has piled more pressure on Mr Leonard’s leadership.
Lord Soley joined a growing band of prominent Labour figures, including several MSPs, who have rebelled against Mr Leonard and urged him to step down for the sake of Scottish Labour.
Mr Leonard responded by signalling his determination to continue, saying it would be a “dereliction of duty” for the Labour Party to turn in on itself.
Writing for us, Lord Soley said evidence suggested Mr Leonard is unable to win at next year’s Scottish elections and urged him not to repeat the mistakes of Mr Corbyn, who was comprehensively defeated by Boris Johnson at the end of last year.
Richard Leonard’s identification with Jeremy Corbyn is a fatal weakness. Corbyn effectively put Boris in Downing Street by failing to listen to the voters. We must not make the same mistake in next year’s Scottish election.”
Lord Soley argued that the quick election of a replacement for Mr Leonard could give Scottish Labour a boost ahead of May’s Scottish election and the next General Election.
The former Labour MP, who as Clive Soley represented several London constituencies between 1979 and 2005 and now lives in the Highlands, argued that the lack of focus on the Scottish Government’s health, education, Covid deaths, and economic records led to “tough questions” for Labour’s leadership.
He also compared Mr Leonard’s leadership with the “remarkable recovery” of the UK party under Keir Starmer and described the Scottish leader’s personal poll ratings as “depressing”.
Do I agree with those who say Leonard should step down? Yes, sadly I do. The future of Scotland and of the UK are at stake. In my judgement we cannot go on with the Tories in charge of Westminster and the SNP in charge at Holyrood.”
“I know politics is a tough trade but all politicians have a duty to put the country and their own party before their own feelings,” Lord Soley wrote.
“I do understand that Richard Leonard wants to win but the evidence in Scotland is clearly saying he can’t. Leadership matters and right now that matters more than any other interest if the Party is to fight and win in the Holyrood elections next year and in the General Election whenever it comes.
“Richard Leonard’s identification with Jeremy Corbyn is a fatal weakness. Corbyn effectively put Boris in Downing street by failing to listen to the voters. We must not make the same mistake in next year’s Scottish election.
“So, do I agree with those who say Leonard should step down? Yes, sadly I do. The future of Scotland and of the UK are at stake. In my judgement we cannot go on with the Tories in charge of Westminster and the SNP in charge at Holyrood.”
The row over Mr Leonard’s leadership has split the Scottish Labour Party between those on the left of the party and the moderates.
His internal critics have said his leadership is too closely tied to Mr Corbyn’s failed stint in charge of the UK Labour Party, while he has retained the support of left-leaning figures like Neil Findlay MSP.
Lord Soley made his views clear as Mr Leonard continued to cling on to his position, despite the mounting pressure from within his own party.
Last week James Kelly resigned from his Shadow Cabinet in protest at his leadership and urged him to go.
Fellow front bencher Mark Griffin took similar action, while the Dundonian North East MSP Jenny Marra and Lothians MSP Daniel Johnson also said he should go.
The chorus of criticism grew in a letter sent to Mr Leonard by Labour peers Lord Robertson, the former Defence Secretary, former Scottish Secretary Baroness Liddell, former MSP and MP Lord Foulkes and John Smith’s former adviser and former MI6 officer Baroness Ramsay.
The letter called on Mr Leonard to consider his position.
Responding to Lord Soley’s article, Mr Leonard said: “Those people who have called on me to step down have underestimated my resolve and the mandate I received from Scottish Labour Party members under three years ago. It would be a dereliction of duty at the very point when the country is facing an unprecedented crisis for the Labour Party to turn in on itself.”