Jeremy Corbyn has thanked Labour members for their support after an unofficial meeting in Angela Eagle’s constituency.
Speaking via smartphone, the Labour leader told the meeting to “keep up the good work” as they congregated in a pub in the New Brighton ward in the Wirral, Merseyside.
About 70 party members decided to hold what they called a “gathering” after being told by local officials that the ruling National Executive Committee had suspended all constituency Labour meetings during the leadership election.
The unprecedented edict was issued by the NEC on Tuesday in a bid to prevent intimidation and harasssment that has afflicted some local parties as tensions ran high over the split between Labour MPs and the leadership.
In a further sign of the turmoil at the grassroots, Labour today suspended its largest constituency party in Brighton, Sussex, and annulled the election of two pro-Corbyn officers who had won key posts.
Local parties are reportedly holding unofficial meetings, in London, the Midlands and Liverpool, part of a revolt against what they see as a heavy-handed diktat from the NEC this week.
The New Brighton ward ‘gathering’, held in a community centre, voted their support for Corbyn. They also proceeded to pass a motion of no confidence in Eagle - by 55 votes to nine - following her challenge to Corbyn.
They also agreed unanimously to condemn the decision to bar recent new members from voting in the leadership election unless they paid a new £25 ‘registered supporters’ fee. Some 900 new members have joined Wallasey.
Around 20 people then moved on to a nearby pub, where a former campaign aide of Corbyn managed to get him on speakerphone to pass on his best wishes.
“There was nothing sinister about it, he just thanked them all for their support and told them to keep up the good work,” one source at the meeting told HuffPostUK.
However supporters of Eagle were furious at what they saw as an attempt by Corbyn to interfere in her local constituency, while appearing to undermine the NEC ruling banning branch or other meetings.
Eagle’s local constituency office had a window smashed by a brick the night after she formally launched her challenge for the leadership.
And the day after the New Brighton meeting, a woman turned up at her office to berate staff over their MP’s disloyalty to Corbyn.
Helen Osgood, campaign co-ordinator of the Wallasey CLP and senior caseworker, told HuffPost: “This lady came in first thing and just started shouting. She said the branch had voted by a big majority to say they had no confidence in Angela.
“I said that meeting was illegal because all meetings were suspended by the party. She was getting really loud. It seemed like she had been fired up by the meeting the night before. Jeremy told them all to keep up the fight.”
Osgood, who had arrived at work to find the shattered glass in the office earlier in the week, said that local police had advised the party office to unplug their phonelines too following a series of vicious phone calls and threats.
“People have been telling us that they are on Angela’s side and she has a democratic right to challenge a sitting leader. But they are afraid to say so publicly in the current climate.”
The Wallasey MP has condemned her party leader for failing to get a grip on extremists engaged in violent threats and intimidation.
She told the BBC this week that the attacks “are being carried out in his name and he needs to get control of people supporting him and make certain that this behaviour stops and stops now”.
“It is bullying. It has absolutely no place in politics in the UK and it needs to end.”
Corbyn supporters insist that there is no evidence that the smashed window was politically motivated and may have been a random act of violence.
Allies of the leader say that every ward in Wallasey disagrees with Eagle’s challenge, with local Unite officials attending meetings to make clear their views.
One who was present said: “It was very clear this was not an official meeting. A lot of people came because they hadn’t known the party had suspended local meetings, they had just come from work on their way home.”
Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill, who was at the New Brighton meeting, tweeted that it was a civil affair.
Sarah Henney, one party member at the unofficial meeting, listed its decisions on Twitter too.
Supporters of Eagle say that her critics have levelled abuse at her, sometimes homophobic, over the years and even at a recent constituency meeting.
Eagle herself revealed yesterday that the police had told her they were investigating a potential death threat against her, as well as suffering online abuse calling her “a treacherous lesbian”.
Local supporters of Corbyn say such allegations are smears against those who disagree with her opposition to the leadership.
Paul Davies, vice chair of the CLP, told HuffPostUK that the New Brighton ‘gathering’ had been clear that it was not an official meeting. “There was a good debate, it was all civilised.
“The one thing that united them all was that we agree everybody should get a vote [in the leadership election].”
He said that the New Brighton ‘gathering’ went ahead because few members had been told all meetings were suspended and it would have been wrong to deter so many new members who had turned up.
Davies, who was suspended from the party but rejoined last year, also rejected the “entryist” tag that was attached to Corbyn supporters. He added that he was convinced the party would now try to suspend him. "All the old allegations will come up, which were disproved, about my past," he said.
One party source said that Corbyn’s decision to speak to local members was “extraordinary judgement by JC given everything that’s happened in her [Eagle’s] seat and at the office”.