Angela Eagle, the former Labour leadership challenger, has launched her most direct attack on Jeremy Corbyn so far, saying his failure to deal with bigotry and intimidation has tarnished the party’s reputation.
The former shadow business secretary, who deputised for Corbyn at PMQs until her resignation, accused him of indifference to complaints of bullying and of having “sat back silently as this has gone on”.
Eagle’s comments relate particularly to the turmoil engulfing her own constituency Labour party in Wallasey. The local party has been suspended over allegations by 17 members of bullying and homophobic language at its annual general meeting, including a claim that Eagle was in her absence referred to as “Angie the dyke” and that another member was threatened with being punched in the head.
The claims have been denied by Eagle’s critics within the local party, some of whom are holding an unofficial meeting of Labour members, hosted by Wirral TUC, on Tuesday night.
In response, Eagle said on Tuesday: “The 17 whistleblowers who wrote to the Labour party with eyewitness testimony of homophobic language and actions, threats of violence and other behaviour unbecoming of Labour members did so because they want the same as we all should– for the Labour party to be a safe welcoming campaigning environment, free of bigotry and bullying.
“That is why I am so saddened and disappointed that Labour party constituency officers are seeking to challenge in public the private testimony of whistleblowers. If this was happening in a workplace, the unions – for which I worked for many years – Jeremy, myself, the whole Labour movement would be aghast ...
“Jeremy keeps telling us that he is standing for a kinder, gentler politics, but that is rendered meaningless when he fails to protect people who have witnessed bigotry and intimidation from having their anonymous testimony challenged in public.
“For weeks now, Jeremy has sat back silently as this has gone on. This is precisely the kind of behaviour that has led to the Labour party finding itself in crisis. It has tarnished both the party’s reputation but most of all his own.
“It’s time for him now to rein in those that have gone too far and for him to try to become part of the solution to our problems, not a cause. It is not too late to save the Labour party, but every day that his indifference continues, it makes it harder for us to come together as a strong, united Labour party capable of taking on and beating this awful Tory government and healing our nation.”
An aide to Corbyn rejected Eagle’s comments, saying: “Jeremy has consistently condemned all abuse and called repeatedly for a kinder, gentler politics. He recently launched ‘respect and unity’, a code of conduct calling on all Labour members and supporters to conduct themselves with a high standard of behaviour.
“This has made clear that demonstrations outside MPs’ offices or surgeries are not acceptable, nor is abuse of any kind. Anyone with evidence of abuse or threats should inform both the police and Jeremy, and he will personally ensure that it is properly investigated by the party.”
There has also been a complaint that Labour members in Wallasey have been invited to the unofficial meeting in breach of data protection laws. This is also disputed by Paul Davies, organiser of the meeting, who said he has leafleted many streets in the hope of reaching Labour members rather than targeting them directly.
On Monday in a letter to Tribune magazine, Davies, a vice-chairman of the suspended Wallasey party, said the allegation that Eagle was called a homophobic slur was a local “folk myth”.
Davies told the Guardian there would have been uproar if such comments were made. “There were 44 people in a room not much bigger than my front room,” he said. “It was cheek to jowl, no one could do much without someone else knowing. Nobody heard a comment of homophobia or any intimidation in that meeting.
“Nobody mentioned it despite the fact there was maybe four or five councillors, several full-time officials, there were a number of gay people. It is not as if it was full of timid people.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd August 2016 18.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010