Why is Britain's Angela Eagle facing a no-confidence vote from Labour Party?

Ms. Eagle announced her bid to challenge current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday, part of what some call a battle for the party's 'soul.'

Dominic Lipinski/PA/AP
Angela Eagle (front r.) arrives to launch her bid to challenge current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London on Monday.

The contest for leadership of Britain's Conservative Party, sparked by tumult in the wake of the country's vote to leave the European Union, has now left Home Secretary Theresa May seemingly unopposed.

But a battle to lead the rival Labour Party is just heating up. Angela Eagle, the former shadow business secretary, formally launched her bid to challenge current leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday.

“I would not do this if I did not think I could be a good prime minister for Britain. These are dark times for Labour. And they are dangerous times for our country,” she said in a speech formally announcing her bid, The Telegraph reports. Citing her roots in Northern England, she described herself as a “practical socialist driven by a strong set of values who wants to get things done.”

The contest to become Labour leader has become mired in a debate over party rules, and a broader gulf between the parliamentary Labour party and local constituencies, what some are calling a battle for the party’s “soul.” 

Diane Abbott, a Corbyn ally and shadow health secretary, has criticized Ms. Eagle’s votes for the Iraq War and in favor of tuition cuts, calling her the “Empire Strikes Back” candidate, the Independent reports.

In Eagle’s own constituency in Wallasey, Merseyside, party leaders passed a motion to support Mr. Corbyn last week. Her leadership bid could generate a significant debate and even a no-confidence vote against her in her home base in the Northern English city.

Corbyn, who won an overwhelming majority of party votes last year by strongly denouncing cuts to public services and welfare and the country’s support for the Iraq War, lost a vote of no-confidence from MPs last week 172 to 40.

Eagle has been touting her ability to secure the vote of the required 51 MPs and UK representatives in the European Parliament, rather than providing policy alternatives to Corbyn's. Yet she could also face a no-confidence vote of her own, especially if he is kept off the ballot because of the party's rules.

“I think there would be uproar and any calls for Angela to be deselected would increase,” Paul Davies, the party’s vice-chair in Wallasey, told The Guardian.

“She’s supported a vote of no confidence in Jeremy [Corbyn], and therefore she could hardly complain if there was one proposed against her. I suppose those same people would say, ‘well, as she kept asking Jeremy to accept that position, so should she’,” said Mr. Davies, who said that this was not his own stance.

Part of the conflict stems from Eagle’s policy stances. She has said her background as a “good sensible, down-to-earth woman with Northern roots” could help her “heal” and unite the party, the Independent reports.

But Ms. Abbott pointed to Eagle’s past votes and her failure to win a bid to become deputy leader as evidence that her bid to become party leader could be similarly unsuccessful.

The Iraq War has particularly re-emerged as a significant issue in the wake of the Chilcot Report, which strongly condemned the stances taken by former prime minister Tony Blair, who had pushed the party toward its more centrist, "New Labour" incarnation.

“I think she's the Empire Strikes Back candidate – she voted for Iraq, she voted for tuition fees. And someone who came fourth out of five to be deputy, it's not clear to me that she can win the leadership,” she said on the TV show Good Morning Britain, the Independent reports.

Another issue is whether Corbyn must be re-nominated by MPs in order to run against the challenge to his leadership. The conflict hinges on whether he is considered a “potential challenger” and must seek the support of 20 percent of the MPs, or can automatically be on the ballot by default, since he is the incumbent. The party’s National Executive Committee is set to reach a decision on that issue on Tuesday.

Owen Smith, the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, has also been rumored to be launching a leadership bid, according to The Guardian.

While Corbyn suggested over the weekend that winning a possible general election was not as important as “changing the way politics is done in this country,” Eagle has taken the opposite stance.

“It’s about giving hope to people all over the country that Labour can be an alternative government, ready and equipped to serve,” she said on Monday. “The blunt truth is that the country does not believe that when they look at us right now. But they will if I win this fight.”

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