Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team has issued a list singling out 14 Labour MPs, including deputy leader Tom Watson, whom it claims have abused the leader and his allies, triggering a new row in the party.
Corbyn’s team said the list was sent out by mistake by a junior staff member, but the leader later appeared to stand by the substance of the allegations, saying all the remarks had been made on the record.
In the release, Owen Smith, the challenger for the Labour leadership, was accused of being the “real disunity candidate”, who has failed to tackle abuse meted out by his own supporters.
The list, obtained by Press Association, highlighted the behaviour of a number of Labour MPs, including Jess Phillips for telling Corbyn’s ally Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, John Woodcock for dismissing the party leader as a “fucking disaster” and Tristram Hunt for describing Labour as “in the shit”.
Watson was highlighted for calling the grassroots Corbyn campaign Momentum a “rabble”.
It emerged just hours before the final Labour leadership hustings between Smith and Corbyn, who is the overwhelming favourite to win the contest.
At the Sky News debate, Smith branded it a “deselection list” that would be used by some activists to target MPs considered hostile to Corbyn.
“You talk about trying to unite the party, but I find that quite hard to reconcile with something your campaign did just this evening, which was to publish a list, a deselection list if you like, of … MPs including the deputy leader of our party, Tom Watson, who your campaign think transgressed against you in criticising you. That isn’t unifying. That is deeply divisive,” he said.
Smith said the deselection of sitting MPs would lead Labour into “even greater trouble than we are now”, before accusing Corbyn of not being serious about winning power.
Corbyn responded by defending the accuracy of the release and urging Smith to focus on policies.
“There was information put out there, which is statements made by colleagues on the record and is all out there in the public domain,” the leader said.
He went on to say he would rather Watson had not referred to activists from the Momentum group of Corbyn supporters as a “rabble”.
Corbyn said it was not about targeting the MPs for deselection, adding: “Owen, why don’t we try and discuss how we can make sure party policies are effective and that we win the next election by unifying and coming together around the issues that we do agree on, such as the need to oppose austerity, the need to support our NHS, the need to end PFIs [private finance initiatives] and the need for an investment strategy across the whole of this country.”
The others identified on the list were Ian Austin, Neil Coyle, Ben Bradshaw, Frank Field, Anna Turley, Jamie Reed, Karl Turner, Stephen Kinnock and Tom Blenkinsop.
The releasehas triggered an angry response from some MPs and it is understood a complaint about “bullying” has been made to Rosie Winterton, the Labour chief whip.
A spokesperson for Watson said: “Tom Watson has received an apology from [press aide] James Mills on behalf of the junior press officer in Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team who released this list by mistake.”
Coyle, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, who was among those criticised, said he was “fuming”, while Woodcock was similarly angry.
During the hustings, Corbyn and Smith also clashed about the EU and electability.
Corbyn said the party needed to “recognise the result of the referendum” and work towards a good deal for the UK, including access to the single market. Smith is pushing for a second referendum after the terms of the deal negotiated by the government become clear.
Smith challenged Corbyn to say how many seats Labour needed to win the next election, claiming it was 106 when the leader said it was at least 90.
“I worry the leader of the Labour party does not know how many seats we need to win. I don’t believe you are serious about winning for Labour,” Smith said.
Corbyn outlined his vision for winning the next election, saying the party would unite after the leadership contest to focus on opposing the Tories. He predicted Theresa May would be forced to drop her plans for bringing in new grammar schools under Labour pressure.
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