A key ally of Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that the future of his leadership should be decided by a ballot of ordinary members instead of a vote of no confidence by MPs.
Diane Abbott, the new shadow health secretary, said the way in which Labour rebels were attempting to oust Labour’s leader of nine months was not part of the rules and was seeking to avoid the party’s democratic structures.
A majority of MPs – sources say it could be as many as seven in every 10 MPs – are expected to vote in favour of a no-confidence motion that will be conducted through a secret ballot on Tuesday.
The vote follows a concerted effort to force Corbyn out over the weekend. There have been 20 resignations from the shadow cabinet and at least another 20 from other party positions by MPs demanding he steps down for the good of the party and the country.
Andy Slaughter was the most recent to quit, on Tuesday morning, after declining the offer of a role in the shadow cabinet.
Abbott said the vote had no status under the party rule book. “It has no meaning,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “MPs don’t choose the leader of the Labour party, the party does.
“I think it is really sad that colleagues have chosen to stage this three-ring circus because they don’t want to have a leadership election because they are not certain of winning a leadership election. The way to resolve this is to have a leadership election.”
Earlier, Dame Margaret Hodge, who began the process of a vote of no confidence, said MPs were angry about Corbyn’s failure to campaign with enthusiasm for the UK to remain in the EU. The former chair of the public accounts committee urged Corbyn’s close allies to ask him to resign with dignity.
“This is the time when friends should come up to the mark and say … this is in the best interests of the party. The country needs strong opposition and a clear route forward,” Hodge said.
Corbyn was voted in as opposition leader last September on a landslide after the rules were changed to allow members to join for £3 each. His allies believe he can win a second leadership election following the influx of new, leftwing members.
One campaign organisation, Momentum, has claimed it can mobilise 100,000 Corbyn supporters and can install several telephone phone banks for a leadership campaign.
However, many Labour MPs say there has been a backlash by ordinary members against Corbyn because of his alleged failure to perform during the referendum campaign and last month’s local elections.
John Woodcock, a Labour MP and critic of Corbyn, told Sky News: “A lot of people who voted for Jeremy last year have looked at what’s happened and thought, ‘No, actually, it’s not right’. And this has real consequences.
“We are not just talking about a man who can say nice things and who can make us feel good about our party … I think party members are changing their view, right across the country. Of course there are people who want him to stay on but many are thinking this is the time to change.”
On Tuesday, the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror joined the calls for him to quit for the sake of his party and country.
At Monday’s packed meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, Corbyn unveiled a list of new shadow cabinet members and insisted he planned to lead Labour into the next general election. He was barraged with criticism at the meeting, which one MP said was “going wild”.
Corbyn’s new shadow cabinet members include Barry Gardiner on energy, Richard Burgon on justice and Debbie Abrahams on work and pensions.
He was confronted by MPs, including Chris Bryant, Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips, asking him to reconsider his position before the possibility of a general election, which could be called this year after David Cameron resigned as prime minister.
One MP described the mood at the meeting as despairing. Some were upset that thousands of Corbyn supporters gathered by Momentum were protesting in Parliament Square chanting “Blairites out” throughout. There were claims that the crowd were waving Socialist Workers party flags rather than Labour ones.
Ian Murray, the former shadow Scotland secretary, asked his leader to “call off the dogs” after facing protests outside his constituency office following his decision to resign from Labour’s frontbench at the weekend
Others on the soft left of the party, including Helen Goodman and Clive Efford, also spoke against the leader, while Chris Matheson was cheered for telling Corbyn: “I’ve done something you’ve never done, won a seat off the Tories.”
One MP who tried to defend Corbyn was booed, in a febrile session that ended with Angela Eagle, who had resigned as shadow business secretary, visibly upset.
Corbyn remained defiant even in the face of resignations from previously loyal members of his team on the left of the party, including Eagle, Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, and Lisa Nandy, the shadow energy secretary. Eagle’s sister, Maria Eagle, also quit as shadow culture secretary.
Announcing his resignation in a letter, Slaughter, the shadow justice minister, said he decided to go after talking to his local party and other members in his constituency of Hammersmith.
A Labour spokesman said Corbyn was intent on staying until the next general election, and the remaining vacant shadow cabinet positions would be filled.
“The people who elect the leader of the Labour party are the members of the Labour party and Jeremy has made that crystal clear. He’s not going to concede to a corridor coup or backroom deal which tries to flush him out,” he said. “He was elected by an overwhelming majority of the Labour party. He is not going to betray those people and stand down because of pressure.”
After the meeting, Corbyn addressed supporters outside parliament, promising to fight on to represent them.
He was flanked by Abbott and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who told the crowd the team was going nowhere. Speaking of a “handful of MPs”, McDonnell said it was “open to them to seek another election”.
“But let me make it clear: if there is another leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn will be standing again and I will be supporting him. This is not about any individual, this is about democracy of the movement,” he said, to chants of “Corbyn, Corbyn, Corbyn”.