Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham has hit out at the “outrageous” labelling of people as Tories if they do not support Jeremy Corbyn, amid concerns the contest is getting increasingly fractious online.
The former favourite, who has been overtaken by Corbyn, called for the abuse to stop and for Labour to unite and “take the fight to the real enemies who are the Conservative party”.
“[Calling candidates Tory] – that is just outrageous. Every person in this race is Labour through and through. Let’s have some respect to us all as we go into the final stages,” Burnham told Sky News.
Corbyn has calmly refused to rise to some of the criticism levelled at him by senior Labour figures. But other camps have complained about the aggressive behaviour of some people online who purport to support him.
A statement from Corbyn’s office on Saturday also called on his supporters to follow his example of being “inclusive, positive and based around issues, not personalities”.
It said: “We want – and expect – Jeremy’s attitude to filter throughout the campaign, to our supporters on social media and beyond. People must exercise individual responsibility, but we all need to understand that the key to winning this election is to focus on the issues and to engage in the debate in a civil, comradely manner.
“We don’t accept or tolerate abusive, racist, homophobic or sexist language or behaviour. That’s our tradition, and it’s one we’re proud of.”
Rival candidate Liz Kendall said over the weekend she has suffered “vitriolic” bullying and that those who had been engaging in the “horrible” attacks while criticising the Tories for “divisive rhetoric” should be called out.
Rowenna Davis, a Labour candidate at the general election, has also highlighted some of the abuse against Kendall, including people calling her a “red Tory cow” and “Tony Blair with breasts”.
Mike Gapes, a Labour MP who is supporting Kendall and was one of those who has been abused on Twitter, said there were parallels with some of the online aggression during the Scottish referendum campaign.
He said: “I’ve been a member of the Labour party since 1968. There are people who have been in the party five minutes who seem to think that I can be abused because I happen to be supporting Liz Kendall. Because I think Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster, I’m told I’m a Tory. I’m a Tory, then Harold Wilson’s a Tory, Clement Atlee’s a Tory, Neil Kinnock is a Tory, Michael Foot’s a Tory, Tony Blair’s a Tory, Gordon Brown’s a Tory. Ed Miliband’s a Tory. This is just mad.
“I actually during the Scottish referendum was called a red Tory by so-called cybernats in Scotland because I deigned to get involved in the debate. Any Labour people in Scotland were called red Tories. Now it seems the Corbyn people are saying we’re effing Tories or Tory scum or variations on that. It is similar.”
Labour MP John Mann has also complained about some of the abuse he has been getting online. He told the Sunday Express: “I have very serious concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. I’ve received some vicious antisemitic abuse and I’m expecting the Labour party to take action against this.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 16th August 2015 12.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010