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Socialist leader victory in UK fuels 'one-party state' fears

Labour politicians have rallied around veteran socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was re-elected this weekend, although fears that the party fails to pose a credible challenge to the political dominance of the ruling Conservative party linger.

The U.K.'s opposition Labour Party re-elected far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn this weekend, despite misgivings among the party's own members of parliament (MPs). Corbyn gained 313,209 votes (around 62 percent of the vote), compared to his rival Owen Smith's 193,229 votes, and his re-election was announced at the start of Labour's four-day party conference on Saturday.


Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn listens to speakers on the first day of the Labour Party Conference the Exhibition Centre Liverpool on September 25, 2016 in Liverpool, England.
Leon Neal/Getty Images
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn listens to speakers on the first day of the Labour Party Conference the Exhibition Centre Liverpool on September 25, 2016 in Liverpool, England.

Speaking to CNBC on the sidelines of the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, however, veteran MPs said the party needed unity if it was to be a credible challenger to the ruling Conservative Party (also known as the Tories).

"In terms of where we are (now) I think, in all honesty, even Jeremy would have to admit that we are far from in a position to challenge the Tory government in a general election," Labour MP Caroline Flint told CNBC on Sunday.

Flint, who has been critical of Corbyn in the past, added that she thought Prime Minister Theresa May, elected this summer after David Cameron's post-Brexit resignation, could remain in power until the next general election is due in 2020.

"I personally feel Theresa May will go all the way to 2020," she said, stressing that the onus was now on Corbyn to appeal to a wider range of voters that have drifted away from the party.

Corbyn needs wider support

Corbyn's win gives him a stronger mandate than when he first became Labour leader a year ago and comes amid a swelling in support for the leader from party members, trade unions and the grassroots Labour movement.

However, many Labour MPs have quit the shadow cabinet or voiced their disapproval of Corbyn's far-left policies, fearing that they make the party unappealing to a wider base of British voters and will keep Labour out of power for longer.

This has led the British media, such as The Economist magazine, to warn of a "one-party state" in the country, with the Conservative Party now into its second term in government. A fall in support for Labour – the largest opposition party -- combined with in-fighting among Labour MPs has fueled fears of an unchallenged government.

Labour MP and one-time leadership contender Chuka Umunna told CNBC on Monday that if Labour lost the next general-election, there would be a "terrific amount of soul-searching about the way forward."

"But to be fair to Jeremy Corbyn, let's give the guy a chance. He's just been re-elected. I think everybody's utterly clear that we've got to be focused on making sure that we win it and that one task cannot be done by Jeremy Corbyn or anyone of us alone - it has to be a team effort."

Meanwhile, Yvette Cooper, an MP and former Labour cabinet minister, told CNBC over the weekend that Corbyn needed to use his authority to "pull people together."

"I think the party does feel divided but it's also determined not to split," she said.

Corbyn vowed to bring the party back together after his reelection was announced, telling the conference that "we have much more in common than divides us."

However, despite strong support from the party membership, voter intention polls show that Corbyn - who favors renationalization of public utilities, a reversal of austerity measures and higher tax rate for the wealthy - is still generally unpopular or distrusted among British voters.

A YouGov/The Times newspaper poll of 1732 people published on September 15th showed that 50 percent of people thought current Prime Minister May would be a better Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn himself was favored by 18 percent of people, while a further 33 percent said they were unsure about him.

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