Labour MPs should stop trying to “demonise” Jeremy Corbyn supporters as “bullies, brick-throwers, misogynists and thugs”, Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon has warned.
The Leeds East MP added that “a tiny minority” of fellow MPs had attempted to “bully and intimidate” himself and other pro-Corbyn colleagues in Parliament.
Burgon, who has emerged as one of Corbyn’s strongest supporters at rallies across the country, said that hundreds of thousands of ordinary party members were effectively being smeared by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) for backing the leader.
Corbyn, who will appear in Leeds on Saturday at what is expected to be another packed event, is battling Owen Smith in the leadership election sparked by MPs unhappy with his stewardship of the party.
The ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) has suspended all local party meetings, other than nomination meetings for the leadership, amid fears of intimidation and harassment, particularly of women members.
In a new blog, Burgon slammed Labour MPs for attempting to use the Twitter threats and other allegations to discredit the many individual members who had backed Corbyn in record numbers in his landslide victory in 2015 - and who still backed him.
The Shadow Justice Secretary stressed that “abusive and threatening behaviour online and misogyny are serious societal problems that urgently need tackling”, adding that the party leader had himself condemned such conduct.
“But, at the same time, I am not – and others are not – going to stand by whilst hundreds of thousands of decent Labour members are dismissed and demonised as bullies, brick-throwers, misogynists and thugs. It’s just not right,” he said on LabourList.
Angela Eagle, whose challenge to Corbyn triggered the election, has suggested that a brick thrown through a window of an office building shared by her constituency association was an act of intimidation by her political opponents.
According to her local paper, counter-terrorism police emailed her to add that “it would be a good idea to, if possible, cancel or postpone” constituency surgery meetings until further notice.
But Eagle’s critics - including a member of the NEC - have claimed the brick incident, which came the night after she challenged Corbyn, was a random act of vandalism.
Labour MP Jess Phillips on Thursday became the latest MP to take emergency security measures following threats.
Burgon compared the smears of Corbyn supporters to the Miners’ Strike.
“And this kind of thing is nothing new. Labour people must remember that in the 1984/5 miners’ strike the establishment attempted to dismiss and demonise hundreds of thousands of striking miners and activists from Women Against Pit Closures as bullies, brick-throwers and thugs. They were smeared as “the enemy within”.
“But their real crime, in the eyes of the establishment, was to get together and organise to take on the establishment, stand up for working class interests and build a better society. Just as it was morally wrong to smear hundreds of thousands of striking miners and Women Against Pit Closures activists in this way in 1984/5, it is morally wrong to dismiss and demonise hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members in this way in 2016.”
Burgon pointed out that many Labour party members don’t earn the same salaries as MPs.
“We must ensure that we stand up and speak out against any attempt to smear hundreds of thousands of decent women and men who have joined the Labour Party and who don’t get paid £75,000 a year for their contribution to politics.”
And he suggested that the conduct of individual MPs was as bad as online twitter abuse.
“Unacceptable behaviour isn’t confined to Twitter users unknown to the public. I have been deeply shocked and saddened by the way a minority of my Parliamentary colleagues have treated Party members on Twitter, in person and at meetings.
“MPs deserve to be treated with respect but so do Labour members. As MPs we need to understand it’s not “all about us”. That’s why I haven’t been press-releasing the energetic but failed attempts by a tiny minority of MPs to bully and intimidate myself and other MPs who support the leader of the Labour Party.”
Burgon said that “emotions rightly run high” in politics because of the life-and-death decisions Parliament often made.
“The decisions of politicians can result in bombs raining down upon the heads of innocent people, bringing death, disablement and life-long trauma,” he said.
“They can result in British servicemen and servicewomen being sent to their deaths on a false premise. What people call “politics” is a serious business.”
Aged just 35 and first elected in 2015, Burgon has emerged as one of the most powerful public speakers at Corbyn rallies.
At one event last week he again attacked fellow MPs: “I don’t believe socialists should give into threats, I don’t believe we should give into parliamentary bullies”.
“They are not bothered if they offend Labour Party members. Some of them want to offend Labour Party members. And the reason is quite clear, they want every single Labour Party member who supported us, who supported Jeremy Corbyn, to leave the Labour Party.”
Corbyn last week pointed out that sitting Labour MPs would be facing reselection as part of coming boundary changes for Westminster seats.
In video interview with Burgon, leftwing veteran Dennis Skinner appears to suggest that fellow MPs will have to get into line once Corbyn is re-elected.
“Then it’s the job of the PLP to realise that the next big hurdle they’ve got to overcome is getting back as members of Parliament for the next Parliamentary session, when we will have a Labour government.”