Diane Abbott has said people should judge how Jeremy Corbyn is performing by looking at the polls in “six months” time.
The shadow home secretary said on Thursday evening if she did have a “plan B” for what to do if Labour did not catch up with the Tories she was keeping it secret.
A YouGov poll earlier this month showed the Conservatives had a 19-point lead over Labour.
In December, Abbott, a close ally of the Labour leader, told The Independent she expected Corbyn to close the gap on Theresa May in 12 months.
Speaking to students at Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Institute last night, Abbott said “of course” she expected Labour’s numbers to have improved by then.
And she suggested a turnaround could be expected by the end of September.
“The way the media treated Jeremy was just quite extraordinary. Add insult to injury of at least a year when Labour MPs were in the media, day after day, saying he was completely unelectable,” Abbott said of Corbyn’s time in office. “It’s not surprising that our polling isn’t great.
“It is now the case Labour MPs have calmed down a bit - so we will see where the polls are in six months time.”
Len McCluskey, the Corbyn ally who is expected to soon be re-elected as general secretary of the Unite union, has said it would be clear in the next “15 months” how the Labour leader was performing.
Abbott said the UK could not have a politics where a leader who was chosen by “ordinary people” who wanted “peace abroad and social justice at home” was “driven out of office by malign and often simply false media and MPs” who did not like him.
“I know I’m being recorded, so I will be careful what I say about my colleagues,” Abbott said. But she added some Labour MPs “seem to think it’s more important to attack someone that has been elected twice in 12 months than to get together and try and win a victory for our party in a few years”.
Asked what she would do if Corbyn did not close the gap on the prime minister, Abbott said: “What happens if the polling doesn’t improve in a year? Do I have a Plan B? Let me put it to you like this, if I had a Plan B, I wouldn’t tell you.”
Speaking about her conviction that Corbyn could win an election, Abbott, who was was first elected in 1987, said she had seen predictions that Labour was doomed before.
“I came into politics when people were saying the Labour Party would never win another election,” she said. “We came through the 1980s and won.”
“It meant so much having come in at the point when people said my party could not win again to win resoundingly in 1997.”
The shadow home secretary also said Labour suffered from the “myths” that it was responsible for the financial crisis.
“The balance for us in economic policy is sounding credible but also sounding radical, it is a hard balance,” she said.
“John McDonnell has done his best to transform himself into a friendly bank manager type figure,” Abbott observed. “If you know John McDonnell as well as I know John McDonnell, it’s interesting, you see him and think, ‘who are you and what have you done with John McDonnell?’”
The veteran MP who served on Ed Miliband’s frontbench as a shadow health minister, said the public’s view of how the last Labour government handled the economy was damaging to the former Labour leader.
“Ed Balls was lovely, like the rest of you I enjoyed watching him on Strictly, but our problem was he was so closely associated with Gordon Brown. You had Gordon Brown’s sorcerer’s apprentice on the frontbench waving his fingers at David Cameron,” Abbott said.
Abbott also revealed she came close to quitting parliament a few years ago and was persuaded not to by fellow Labour MP Keith Vaz.
“It was to do with some media row,” she said. “I had just had enough. Just had enough. I thought, ‘I can’t take this anymore, I am sick of this, people just think they can say what they like, the media are hounding me and I rang up one of the people I came into parliament with, Keith Vaz, who is extremely resilient in his own way because he has quite an interesting private life … and I said, ‘enough - I’m going to step down’, and Keith said, ‘Diane, you have forgotten what it took for us to get here, you’re not standing down’.”