Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to deny bullying his political opponents after one of his MPs alleged that the Labour leader had threatened to telephone his father amid a row over the party’s direction.
Corbyn has denied such a conversation ever took place, but Conor McGinn, the opposition whip, has insisted the leader of the party said he would call his Sinn Féin-supporting father over complaints about Labour’s direction.
The disagreement began with a statement from McGinn, the St Helens North MP since last year and a member of the Labour whips’ office, posted on Friday morning on the Politics Home website.
McGinn said he had been told by fellow whips that after Corbyn had been angered by an interview McGinn gave, Corbyn had proposed telephoning McGinn’s father, who is a Sinn Féin councillor, to seek his intervention. Although the call was never made, McGinn said the suggestion was “shocking and embarrassing, and almost unbelievable”.
Speaking to Sky News later, Corbyn denied he had made any threats. “I don’t do any abuse, I don’t do any bullying,” he said. A spokesman for the Labour leader’s office said Corbyn denied any conversation had taken place about phoning McGinn’s father. A later statement said: “Jeremy did not at any point threaten to call Conor’s dad, nor did he call him.”
A source later said the suggestion had seemingly been made to Labour whips by one of Corbyn’s senior staff members, at the instigation of the Labour leader, rather than by Corbyn directly. Corbyn’s office denied he suggested such a move.
However, Owen Smith, who is challenging Corbyn for the leadership of the party, said he believed McGinn’s account. Speaking to Sky News, Smith said he was worried about what he said was a wider culture of bullying within Labour. Angela Eagle, who also challenged Corbyn, has received abuse and threats.
“We can’t deny the facts that this wasn’t something we saw in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became leader,” Smith said. “It’s now become commonplace in the Labour party, so something has gone badly wrong under his watch.”
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Eagle also blamed Corbyn, saying he “has been stirring”. She said: “It’s all very well to condemn it but there’s a permissive environment. You can make any number of ritual condemnations as you like but you have got to be judged by your actions not just words.”
In his article, McGinn said he was on a parliamentary trip to Washington in May when he learned that Corbyn was annoyed about an interview he had given in which he discussed the party’s disconnect with working-class communities. McGinn said he refused to retract the comments, but texted Corbyn to stress his support and “make clear that there was no offence intended”.
McGinn said that after he returned to the UK he was told by fellow whips that Corbyn, when deliberating on how to respond to the interview, had suggested calling the MP’s father “to discuss it with him and ask him to speak to me about it”.
McGinn continued: “Jeremy does not know my father so I can only presume that because of the much-publicised fact that my father was a Sinn Féin councillor Jeremy felt that they would share a political affinity and was proposing to use that to ask my father to apply pressure on me. Thankfully, others dissuaded Jeremy from taking this course of action. The call was not made, and it would not have been well received.”
McGinn said he had experienced abuse and threats, including an incident in which some opponents got access to his shared office building and filmed themselves protesting outside his office door, also threatening to disrupt his surgeries.
McGinn said he decided to speak out after watching an interview Corbyn gave to the BBC’s Newsnight on Thursday. He said: “I am afraid I could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy of him talking about a kinder, gentler politics when I knew for a fact that he had proposed using my family against me in an attempt to bully me into submission because he didn’t like something I said.”
Speaking to Sky, Corbyn said: “I wish some of my colleagues would concentrate on political issues. I regret the language that’s been used, by all of them. I don’t do any abuse, I don’t do any bullying, I don’t allow it to be done anywhere to do with any of my campaign teams and I’m very surprised and very disappointed they should say that because politics has to be about bringing people in.”
This article was written by Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Friday 22nd July 2016 13.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010