John McDonnell has been branded “truly evil” by a Conservative cabinet minister for comments he made about the new work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.
The shadow chancellor once called McVey a “stain on humanity” and quoted an activist who called for her to be “lynched”.
Andrea Leadsom, the Conservative leader of the Commons, said the comments played on the BBC’s Sunday Politics today, were “utterly disgusting”.
Jeremy Corbyn was asked on ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme whether McDonnell was wrong to use those words.
The Labour leader said: “Well I would rather stick to where I disagree with somebody on their policies, I fundamentally disagree with Esther McVey and her approach towards inequality and the poor, and the worst off within our society and I will stick to that.”
He added: “It’s a basic in the Labour Party, you treat people with respect and treat each other with respect. I don’t do personal abuse of anybody and I don’t expect anybody else to do it towards any of our candidates or anyone else.
McDonnell appeared alongside McVey on Peston on Sunday back in September and 2016. He defended his comments as “honest anger” about welfare cuts being made by the then coalition government.
Brandon Lewis MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party, said today that all Tory candidates would be made pledge to fight clean campaigns.
“All our candidates will sign up to that pledge to behave responsibly and show respect online during elections,” he said.
“Given Jeremy Corbyn again refused to condemn the inappropriate comments from his Shadow Chancellor, it is no surprise he has refused to sign up to this respect pledge for future elections. This shows more than ever that the rot is at the top of the Labour Party.”
Corbyn’s spokesman, when asked on Wednesday if he felt McDonnell should apologise, replied: “John McDonnell didn’t say that she should be lynched.
“It was a comment made at a meeting in 2014, he was reporting what was said at another meeting by a constituent.. He was not saying anything of the kind himself.
“Calling for the lynching of somebody is obviously abusive. He was reporting at the time what was being said in her own constituency.
“He’s made clear that he had said nothing of the kind, he was not calling for any lynching. He is obviously very critical of Esther McVey because of her record. That’s very different thing from calling for anyone to be lynched.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry also last week repeatedly refused to condemn McDonnell directly last week when asked about his “stain on humanity” remarks.
She would not be drawn on whether she believed he should apologise as she said it was “a matter for John” but added she “wouldn’t speak in those terms”.
Asked on BBC Radio 5 Live if she believed McDonnell should apologise, she replied: “I think that those who remember what it was that she said around the time that she was cutting benefits to disabled people will be horrified to hear that she is now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.”