“As the leader, he has earned the right democratically to lead the party,” said the former Labour deputy prime minister. “But there are some people in the party, who I call the Bitterites, who want to continue the war that they lost.”
Prescott’s comments came after Corbyn was criticised by senior Labour figures for attending a Christmas fundraiser for the Stop the War coalition, of which he was chairman before stepping down upon his election as Labour leader in September.
The Stop the War coalition has been criticised in recent months for issuing controversial statements – which were subsequently withdrawn – that said Paris had “reaped the whirlwind” of western intervention in the Middle East when terrorists killed 130 people in the city in November, and likened Islamic State (Isis) to the international brigade that fought Franco in the Spanish civil war.
Prescott warned that Corbyn needed to prioritise his role as leader of the Labour party. “The party has spoken, we have the leader and he has to recognise being a leader, perhaps, more than representing a protest movement,” he said.
The Labour peer added: “At the end of the day Jeremy will have to decide there is a balance between what is the leadership of the Labour party and representing that, a very difficult job, and the one of having to carry out commitments [to] say, Stop the War. He’s been in that all of those years. Do you just want him to say ‘sorry, I’m not going to do it’? It’s only a few MPs demanding that, by the way, not all the MPs.”
Asked about reports in the Sun on Sunday that the former London mayor Ken Livingstone could be given a peerage by Corbyn, Prescott replied: “Nothing’s a surprise with Livingstone, is it? I mean I’ve been on the executive when I’ve had to vote for him and hold my nose because he didn’t want to carry out the party’s policy. That’s Ken Livingstone.”
Speaking to over 100 guests, Corbyn gave a staunch defence of Stop the War at its Christmas fundraising dinner at a Turkish restaurant in south London on Friday.
Corbyn said the group was “dedicated to peace”. The “anti-war movement has been a vital force at the heart of our democracy”, he said. “I think we’ve been right on what we’ve done.”
Corbyn added: “We are a peaceful, democratic force. We are a force for good. We are a force for opening out people’s minds and mobilising them to challenge those that would take us into another war.”
Former shadow cabinet ministers Emma Reynolds, Tristram Hunt and Caroline Flint were among those to warn Corbyn not to attend the event, with Reynolds describing the group as “more anti-west than anti-war”.
The coalition has also come in for criticism from two of its former backers – the Green party MP Caroline Lucas and Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner – who raised concerns that it was not doing enough to support democratic Syrian groups opposing Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president.
Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, who has previously spoken out to defend the Labour leader against criticism by sections of the party, told 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics that she “would not have anything to do with Stop the War”, adding: “I would have advised him not to [attend].”
Haigh said: “My grandma’s family had to flee Spain during the Spanish civil war so I find that deeply offensive. Their reaction to Paris after the Paris attacks was equally [offensive]...
“The problem we have here is a wider narrative that is being painted about Jeremy and the people that are currently running the Labour party, and I worry that further association with organisations like this just plays into the hands of that narrative.”
Richard Burgon, the shadow treasury minister and an outspoken supporter of the Labour leader, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that attacks on Stop the War were “proxy attacks” on Jeremy Corbyn.
“The Stop the War coalition and the ordinary people – from vicars, to pensioners – who marched against the war in Iraq, who marched against the intervention in Libya and who demonstrated against the intervention in Syria, they got it right and many of the people attacking Jeremy Corbyn and many of the people attacking the Stop the War coalition have got it completely wrong.
“And it’s a topsy-turvy world we’re in when attending Stop the War events is controversial but still pretending that Tony Blair and others got it right in Iraq is [not controversial].”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Sunday 13th December 2015 16.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010