Jeremy Corbyn has refused to distance himself from the left-wing Momentum campaign group despite claims from Labour women MPs that they are being targeted by its supporters with online and offline abuse.
The Labour leader came under pressure at a meeting of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as a string of MPs, some on the edge of tears, gave accounts of the attacks they had suffered in recent months
During the hour-long meeting in the Commons on Tuesday, Parliamentarians recounted how they had been threatened with deselection and had felt that Momentum supporters had ‘incited’ harassment and even rape threats.
Some MPs faced local Momentum leaflets claiming they wanted to privatise the NHS.
Women’s PLP chair Jess Phillips said that it was bad enough colleagues having to suffer abuse from those outside the Labour movement, without having to endure harassment from people within it.
Phillips asked Corbyn if he felt he should now distance himself from Momentum, to which he replied: “No.”
The Labour leader stressed that he had always advocated “positive” campaigning and condemned online abuse of women.
But following fresh accounts of the racist and misogynist attacks on Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, the Women’s PLP may now make a formal recommendation for tougher action to be taken.
Corbyn angered some of the MPs present when he said that he too had suffered personal abuse. “No one has threatened to rape Jeremy Corbyn, have they?” one MP told HuffPost UK.
Concerns were also aired about Labour’s lack of women candidates in this year’s Metro mayoral elections in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.
Corbyn had begun his opening remarks by saying that two women had been selected in January to represent the party in the Tees Valley and West of England region this year.
But Labour MP Luciana Berger, who lost out to Steve Rotheram in the selection for the Liverpool Metro Mayoral race, responded that the party had made it harder for women to be successfully chosen.
Berger pointed to a little-noticed rule change arranged by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) last year.
Although all local parties and union affiliates were originally told they had to nominate a man and a woman for Metro Mayor selections, an NEC committee dropped the requirement half way through the contest.
Berger said that she had been selected for her Liverpool Wavertree seat on an all-women shortlist seven years ago, she now felt the party had gone back to ‘another century’ with the dominance of men in devolved elections in England.
She went further and accused Corbyn of effectively endorsing Rotheram at a mass rally in Liverpool just weeks before the ballot. More than 10,000 people turned up to support Corbyn’s leadership campaign last August and he was introduced by Rotheram.
The Labour leader said he was unaware of the NEC rule change.
When it emerged last year that Labour had selected men for all three Metro Mayoralties - Andy Burnham in Manchester, Rotheram in Liverpool and Sion Simon in the West Midlands, Jess Phillips tweeted: “All the mayors can now go on an actual man date. We can make the tea.”
Labour is already under fire for the lack of women Police and Crime Commissioners across the country. Just two of its 13 PCCs are women.
A spokesperson for Momentum said: “Momentum is not campaigning for the deselection of any Labour MPs. The selection of Labour representatives and candidates is a democratic right of Labour members and affiliates, as laid out in the Labour party rule book.
“Momentum has a clear code of ethics and does not tolerate abuse, either online or in person, and if any complaint is made about a member it will be investigated accordingly.”
A Momentum source added: “Rather than undermine our party with false claims in the week of by-elections, these MPs should hop on our carpool app and share a ride with hundreds of members who are out campaigning for Labour victories in Stoke and Copeland.”