Jeremy Corbyn has again come under fire from Labour MPs - despite his plea for Parliamentary unity following his re-election as leader.
The Labour leader faced hostile questions over the party’s poll ratings, Momentum, his reshuffle and his decision to attend an anti-racism event linked to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
The meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday night saw backbencher MP Barry Sheerman confront Corbyn over the latest ICM/Guardian poll that gave the Tories a 17-point lead.
“I’m going to lose my seat. Other people in here are going to lose their seats. What’s the plan?” Sheerman is said to have asked his leader.
The ICM poll gave a post-conference bounce for the Conservatives, who are up two points on 43%, while Labour fell two points to 26% compared to last month.
The highest Tory ICM lead since 2008, when Gordon Brown was at his most unpopular, prompted unease among Labour MPs.
One MP said after the meeting, under condition of anonymity, that Corbyn’s responses to questions were ‘the usual patronising crap’.
However, a senior Labour source said after the PLP meeting that the blame for the poor poll ratings should be partly attributed to the botched ‘coup’ against Corbyn.
“We were level pegging in the May elections, we were one point ahead of the Tories. Obviously, when there were very public divisions like this summer, that has an impact on public opinion. There’s no doubt that the effect of the last few months has been significant,” the source said.
“The public divisions and attacks are damaging. If there are public divisions that will depress Labour support. That’s why it’s essential that people work together effectively.
“That’s why, if we work together, the (opinion poll) gap can be closed. The possibilities and the scope for Labour to bounce back are huge, but to do that we have to be united and work together. I think you’ll see that people are responding to that.”
Corbyn had earlier emailed all his MPs urging them to unite behind his leadership following his landslide victory against Owen Smith in September.
He had said they must “all pledge to work together and to move forward as the united team our Party has every right to expect, and that our country so desperately needs”.
Corbyn also unveiled ten new appointments to his shadow frontbench team, although upto 44 shadow posts remain unfilled since the mass resignations in the wake of the Brexit vote in June.
Of the 10 appointments, eight were shadow ministers who quit in the summer tonight, taking the total number of ‘returnees’ to 25.
The decision to fire former Shadow Chief Whip Rosie Winterton in the reshuffle, as well as a failure to allow MPs to partly chose the Shadow Cabinet, have sparked fresh tensions with the PLP in recent days.
When Corbyn praised Winterton for her service, MP John Spellar heckled “Why did you sack her then?” PLP chairman John Cryer, who has been critical of the lack of progress on Shadow Cabinet elections, added dryly that questions would be allowed later.
The loudest cheers and whoops of the meeting came when Winterton’s name was mentioned, a pointed riposte to the decision to sack her last week.
A Labour source said later that Corbyn had decided to remove her from post in order to reflect his second election victory. “It’s necessary for the Parliamentary operation to be reset in a way that effectively represents his mandate,” they said.
Jess Philips asked Corbyn why he had attended the Stand Up To Racism conference this weekend, amid allegations the SWP was using the event as a ‘front’ for its activities.
The SWP has been mired in controversy since two women accused a senior member of rape in 2013.
Corbyn told the PLP that he condemned the SWP but the conference was a legitimate anti-racism event. “He made clear that Stand Up To Racism is not an SWP organisation, the SWP is part of that organisation, but most of its officers are Labour MPs, MEPs or leading trade unionists,” a source said afterwards.
“He condemned the SWP, he condemned the events that surrounded the sexual assault allegations and said that for those reasons and the way they’d handled it he wouldn’t attend an SWP event. But this is probably the largest anti-racist organisation in the country.”
Former Shadow minister Clive Efford wanted to know what action Corbyn was taking over alleged moves by grassroots movement Momentum to target ‘disloyal’ MPs.
The Labour leader also sparked a strong reaction from some Labour MPs after he said that Russia had “apparently” bombed civilians in Aleppo in Syria.
A party source insisted later that he had “condemned” the Russian and Syrian government involvement in the air strike on a UN aid convoy, and that the evidence suggested that it had been a “war crime”.
However the source added that the incident was why Corbyn had opposed all forms of military intervention in Syria. “He’s condemning the multiplicity of war crimes in Syria today. He said all the evidence pointed to it being a war crime.”
The source added that compared to previous “stormy” meeting of the PLP, the gathering didn’t “register on the Richter scale”. However some MPs present said that the meeting underlined the continued gap between the leadership and the PLP.
Nick Brown told the PLP that whips Conor McGinn and Holly Lynch could have stayed in post if they hadn’t resigned.
But Labour sources refused to deny that McGinn would have been sacked if he hadn’t quit.