POLITICS
05/02/2020 19:40 GMT | Updated 06/02/2020 09:06 GMT

'Politicos' Like Corbyn Aide Karie Murphy Should Not Get Peerages, Emily Thornberry Suggests

Shadow foreign secretary says Labour should not “pack the House of Lords" with close staff of the leader.

“Politicos” like Jeremy Corbyn’s controversial aide Karie Murphy should not be nominated for peerages, Labour leadership contender Emily Thornberry has suggested.

The shadow foreign secretary said that Labour should not be trying to “pack the House of Lords” with former staffers and that if she succeeded Corbyn she would not do so with her own team.

In an interview with the BBC, she said former PM David Cameron was “wrong” to nominate his own office staff and suggested that Corbyn ought not to follow the practice either.

Thornberry spoke out just days after HuffPost UK revealed that the House of Lords appointments watchdog had been told that Murphy was “completely unfit” to be nominated for a peerage, amid a raft of bullying allegations by former and current Labour staff.

Murphy has been accused of pushing a member of staff by the neck and pinning them against a wall, as well as shouting at and undermining staff, all claims that she strongly denies.

Murphy, who was for three years Corbyn’s chief of staff and is still an executive director at the Labour party’s HQ, is on a list of peerage nominations drafted by Corbyn.

The peerage list includes ex-Commons Speaker John Bercow, who is also accused of bullying by former staff.

Asked directly by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg if it was “appropriate” for Murphy to go to the Lords, Thornberry replied that she didn’t want to personalise the issue and it was up to the Lords appointments commission to decide.

OLI SCARFF via Getty Images
Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry.

“As leader of the Labour Party I would not be putting people forward for peerages who have been close to me and working in my office,” she said.

“I think that David Cameron did it. And I think that was wrong. I think that this is not a time for us to pack the House of Lords with politicos who’ve been close to the leader.

“That’s my view, I think there are many people, if we are going to appoint people to the House of Lords, there are many people from a much wider background who should be going into the House of Lords.

“But that’s my decision that is not a personal thing about any individuals. That is the way in which leaders have done things until now and I would do it differently.”

Cameron gave peerages to a string of former aides including Gabby Bertin and Liz Sugg. Ed Miliband nominated his own former key staffer Spencer Livermore for a peerage and Tony Blair’s ex adviser Sally Morgan was made a peer too.

HuffPost UK reported last weekend that the Lords appointments commission has been offered evidence of Murphy’s “aggressive behaviour”. Murphy’s lawyer said that any claim that she was or is aggressive in her behaviour is “untrue and false”.

A 2018 letter, signed by “20+ members of staff from the leader’s office”, alleged “bullying and intimidation of staff by SMT [senior management team] members”.

The letter did not name Murphy explicitly, but several of those who endorsed it have told HuffPost UK it was aimed at her. Murphy’s lawyers insist that she was “not identified by name or position” in the letter.

PA
Jeremy Corbyn and Karie Murphy outside the Labour Party HQ in Westminster.

David Leakey, a former senior parliamentary official, warned on Wednesday that it would be “a scandal that parliament would struggle to live down” if Bercow was made a member of the House of Lords, given the bullying allegations against him.

But Labour faced another row when shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted that it was “unlikely” that Leakey had been bullied by Bercow because he was a former soldier who had “served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia”.

Abbott deleted the tweet after a backlash from military groups, the civil servants’ trade union and Labour MPs.

A spokesman for Corbyn said: “If Diane deleted her tweet that probably indicates that she had concerns that it might be misinterpreted and so she probably thought better of it.

“As a matter of course, all allegations of bullying and harassment should always be taken seriously and investigated. I’m sure Diane agrees with that.

“Diane is responsible for her own statements. Diane should speak for herself.”

When asked why Corbyn had nominated two people who now faced bullying allegations, the spokesman replied: “We are not in a position to comment on proposals, real or imagined, for peerage nominations.

“In relation to issues around our staffing, we don’t comment on staffing issues as a matter of course.

“I would just say that staff are always encouraged to make any complaints about any allegations of bullying or harassment and there is a very strong procedure in the Labour party for investigating and dealing with those things.

“Jeremy would agree that all allegations of bullying and harassment whatever the workplace should always be investigated under robust procedures.”

Earlier this, week another leadership contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey, said that if she won the top job “promotions will be based on what you know, not who you know”.

Long-Bailey also declared Labour’s election defeat was in part down to “mismanagement and a bad organisational culture” within the party. Murphy was in charge of Labour’s election campaign at the party’s HQ.