A group of anti-Corbyn MPs are working to “toxify” Labour by portraying it as “morass of misogyny, anti-Semitism and bullying”, the leader of the UK’s largest trade union has claimed.
In a stinging attack on critics of the Labour leader, Len McCluskey accused a group of MPs of waking up each day and thinking “how can I undermine Jeremy Corbyn today?” – with the complaints over anti-Semitism in the party a tool for such an attack.
McCluskey singles out five MPs - Chris Leslie, Neil Coyle, John Woodcock, Wes Streeting, and Ian Austin – as a “dismal chorus” in the party who are making a Conservative victory at the next election more likely.
And while accepting these MPs are “sincere” opponents of anti-Semitism, the Unite General Secretary questions whether they have done as much to tackle the prejudice as he has.
It is not the first time a Corbyn loyalist has singled out Woodcock and Austin for criticism, with Derby North MP Chris Williamson saying in March he would be “happy” if they “buggered off” out of the party.
McCluskey’s comments were published on the day more than 40 Labour MPs and peers escorted their Jewish colleague Ruth Smeeth to a hearing investigating a party member over alleged anti-Semitism.
Writing in the New Statesman, McCluskey said the “virus” of anti-Semitism needs to be rooted out from Labour, adding: “I have fought anti-Semitism and anti-Semites all my life, including physically on the streets on occasion, and I need no lectures from anyone else on the subject.
“I am not sure that some of the voluble backbench critics of Jeremy Corbyn can say as much: just as it is legitimate to raise and combat anti-Semitic views, it is also legitimate to contextualise the attacks of right-wing MPs without being accused of minimalising or denying anti-Semitism.”
Referring to the “few dozen” MPs “appear to wake up each morning thinking only: ‘how can I undermine Jeremy Corbyn today?’”, McCluskey said: “I do not doubt they are sincere in their opposition to anti-Semitism, but they need to understand that if you attack your party leader about everything, it devalues your criticisms concerning anything in particular.”
The union boss claimed there is “a marked overlap” between those who supported Theresa May “in risking a new bloody intervention in the Middle East, and those who work overtime trying to present the Labour Party as a morass of misogyny, anti-Semitism and bullying.”
He added: “How dare they try to toxify the Labour Party that has been the voice and hope of millions of ordinary working people for generations, including the nearly 13 million people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in 2017?
“His critics enjoyed dramatic increases in their own votes – and I have to advise them that this was down to Corbyn’s campaign and his radical manifesto, not their own personal charisma.”
McCluskey said that while Corbyn’s critics have a right to express their views, “MPs such as Chris Leslie, Neil Coyle (my own MP), John Woodcock, Wes Streeting, Ian Austin, and others, have become a dismal chorus whose every dirge makes winning a Labour government more difficult.”
On whether MPs should face mandatory reselections by their local parties ahead of the next General Election, McCluskey said that while he was opposed to the practice: “I look with disgust at the behaviour of the Corbyn-hater MPs who join forces with the most reactionary elements of the media establishment and I understand why there is a growing demand for mandatory reselection.”
He added: “To watch as these so-called social democrats tried to demean and attack, in front of our enemy, a decent and honourable man who has fought racism and anti-Semitism all his life and who has breathed life and hope back into the hearts of millions, especially the young, made my stomach churn. To see Tory MPs cheer and applaud them was shameful.
“Promiscuous critics must expect to be criticised, and those who wish to hold Corbyn to account can expect to be held to account themselves.”
Responding to the attack, Chris Leslie said McCluskey did not seem to be taking Corbyn’s call to take anti-Semitism in the party “seriously”.
He added: “I make no apology for speaking out against anti-Semitism in Labour.
“Len McCluskey’s threats will only strengthen my determination to fight it.”