The Labour civil war has already started

LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn is finished as Labour leader — the fight for his legacy has just begun.

The unlikely poster child for the Left, whose expectation-defying performance in the U.K.’s last election in 2017 caught eyes across Europe and won fans in the United States, lost big Friday.

The disaster was apparent as soon as polls closed and broadcasters published an exit poll, which predicted a massive Conservative majority of 86 with Labour shedding dozens of seats including in its northern heartlands.

Labour’s biggest problem had been clear to candidates who were given hell from voters on the doorstep throughout the campaign: Corbyn. But the party’s high command argued otherwise.

“Brexit has dominated,” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC, minutes after the survey was announced. “We thought other issues could cut through and there would be a wider debate. From this evidence, there clearly wasn’t.”

When the election result became clear, one senior Labour activist summed up what would happen next: “Civil war.”

The Labour left was not scrabbling to save the blushes of Corbyn. Rather, it was seeking to frame the inevitable battle for the soul of the party in its own terms. For decades, the left longed to hold the levers of power in Labour, and it will not release its grip without a fight.

Blaming the historic drubbing on anything other than the left-wing leader and his policy platform was a no-brainer. The Labour left needed a scapegoat, and Brexit, an obvious factor in the defeat but far from the whole story, was it.

After the 2017 election,

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