'The sniping has to stop': Jeremy Corbyn calls for unity among Labour MPs

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Jeremy Corbyn has faced down his critics in the parliamentary Labour party, calling for an end to the “back-biting, public attacks and constant sniping”.

The Labour leader began the meeting in the House of Commons with an attempt to diffuse the fractious and febrile mood among MPs, which includes some plotting a leadership coup, with a call for calm.

“Yes there are disagreements but we can debate these issues respectfully in here and in the party,” he said. “The sniping has to stop.”

Afterwards a spokesman for the Labour leader insisted that the mainstream of MPs backed Corbyn’s request for unity. “There is frustration that a small minority in the PLP is publicly driving a campaign against the leadership and doesn’t represent the mainstream who want to remain united,” he said.

The spokesman said there were repeated interventions by MPs backing their leader, but others leaving the meeting described the mood as bleak and hostile, pointing out that a number of MPs had raised concerns. One politician, who asked not to be named, described the supportive comments as an “orchestrated operation of the friendlies”.

There were at least four critical questions about Corbyn’s comments last week that he supported decriminalising sex work. Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, reportedly said it demonstrated a lack of message discipline, while Stella Creasy said she had been contacted by women throughout the weekend who were outraged by the remarks. MP Sharon Hodgson said she felt devastated to have to try to convince Corbyn of the case.

Others, including Barry Sheerman, Chuka Umunna and Peter Kyle, raised concerns about the EU referendum, with some suggesting there had been a lack of vigour from the Labour leader.

Sheerman could be heard in the corridor shouting about the EU referendum, with critics saying Corbyn’s interventions have been half-hearted – something strongly refuted by his office.

In contrast, Dawn Butler, Louise Haigh, Ian Lavery and Rebecca Long-Bailey all spoke out in support of their leader.

Long-Bailey warned that the PLP could be blamed if there were poor results in May’s local elections.

Earlier, Ronnie Campbell called on colleagues to end any talk of a coup, arguing that this behaviour of “so-called Blairites” would have had MPs expelled in the past.

“Some MPs have got a death wish and it is only them that’s causing the problems. It’s not Jeremy,” said Campbell, who has represented Blyth Valley since 1987.

Campbell reacted to talk of a febrile atmosphere in the party by claiming there were dozens of Labour MPs who thought they were “potential prime ministers”.

“They are going down a disastrous path, they haven’t got a clue,” he said. “If they think they can get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, get someone in and win the next election they are living in cloud-cuckoo land. What you going to do? You put in Dan Jarvis or Chuka Umunna or whoever. They’ll say what they say the last time and the time before that ... They’ve got as much chance as the man on the moon.”|

The MP mocked his colleagues, joking that they were running around saying “I’m Spartacus, no I’m Spartacus, no I’m Spartacus”.

The decision by backbenchers who are seen as potential future leaders to make significant speeches – including Rachel Reeves and Dan Jarvis – has caused some unrest.

Meanwhile, another ambitious MP – Tristram Hunt – said he believed the former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson would be “slightly horrified” to see the party under Corbyn. In a direct attack on the leader, the MP told BBC’s Daily Politics that Wilson did not want the party to be a “protest movement, protesting outside other party conferences”.

Those who want to see Corbyn toppled as leader disagree about the best way to go about it. There is some talk in the party about a potential coup after the EU referendum. But others believe that would be too soon – because the membership would simply vote for Corbyn again.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Anushka Asthana and Rowena Mason, for The Guardian on Monday 7th March 2016 21.29 Europe/London

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