Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction this week to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil has re-opened old wounds within the Labour party. The Labour leader’s apparent refusal to condemn Moscow involvement was made worse when his spokesman Seumas Milne appeared to cast doubt on the analysis by British intelligence agencies – suggesting that ‘there’s a history in relation to WMD and intelligence which is problematic to put it mildly’. Since then, key Corbyn ally Chris Williamson has branded Labour MPs who back Theresa May’s stance on Russia – rather than Corbyn’s – as ‘political enemies’.
So who’s saying what and which MPs are considering a break with Corbyn? Some think stopping Brexit is the defining issue, so while they disagree with his tone on Russia they’d not consider breaking away. Others are seeing Corbyn’s position as the latest sign of his distortion of the Labour Party and its multilateralist tradition – raising doubts about whether they could prop up his government.
Here’s a who’s who of Corbyn’s ‘political enemies’ within his own party.
Code red: MPs directly critical of Corbyn
Woodcock is the only Labour MP to state publicly that, if re-elected, he would not support Corbyn as Prime Minister. (Other MPs said this on the doorsteps, but don’t admit it). He returned to this theme in the House of Commons on Monday:
‘It would put our national security at risk if we were led by anyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat that Russia poses to our nation’.
He has since submitted an EDM [Early Day Motion] with Labour colleagues making clear ‘we unequivocally accept Russia’s culpability in the Salisbury attack and support UK govt action’. To sign a motion written by Woodcock, an avowed enemy of the Corbyn leadership, is a step that would make Labour MPs target for deselection by Momentum. The number to put their name to Woodcock’s EDM has since increased to 39, which also includes a handful of Lib Dems.
Neil Kinnock’s son, who was elected as the MP for Aberavon in 2015, spoke to Tony Livesey about Corbyn’s response on Radio 5 Live on Wednesday evening:
‘I have to be frank that I was disappointed. Today was the time to show our strength and resolve as a nation… I feel that Jeremy didn’t really strike the right tone, and I think we’ve got to think in broader terms here about the national interest… I think that we’ve got to demonstrate that we are a… government in waiting. That means that we’ve got to take a very serious and hard headed approach to national security…’
When asked if he was ashamed of Corbyn, he replied: ‘I don’t think ashamed is the right word. I would say ‘deeply concerned’ and ‘hoping that we can get back onto the right track here’.
Well known for being a Corbyn critic, the Nottingham East MP joined Andrew Neil on Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Politics. Neil asked Chris Leslie what he thought about Corbyn’s response to Theresa May’s statement on Monday, in which he attacked the Tories for receiving money from Russian donors. His response:
‘Well I felt that party political point-scoring at a time when our country was potentially under attack was not appropriate… I just disagree with that.‘
A No10 staffer under Tony Blair, elected MP for Wolverhampton South East in 2005, Pat McFadden spoke in the Commons about a ‘Labour tradition’:
‘Responding with strength and resolve when your country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership. There is a Labour tradition that understands that, and it has been understood by Prime Ministers of all parties who have stood at that Dispatch Box. That means when chemical weapons are used, we need more than words, but deeds.’
Code green: MPs directly critical of Seumas Milne
While the majority of Labour MPs are still refraining from criticising Jeremy Corbyn directly, they take less issue with criticising his director of communications Seumas Milne. Where Michael Foot was an avowed socialist but also an ardent anti-Marxist, Corbyn, John McDonnell and Seumas Milne come from a different hard-left tradition – one that troubles the majority of the PLP.
Shuker tweeted: ‘This once great party’ in response to the news that Seumas Milne said the UK couldn’t exclude the possibility that the Kremlin was being framed.
According to Buzzfeed, Mike Gapes, said Milne’s remarks were ‘deplorable’ and ‘exactly what I would expect from a man with his political history and friendship with Putin… Jeremy Corbyn was ill-advised to appoint him. He must now sack him.’
Streeting said to Buzzfeed: ‘I’m not sure if [Seamus Milne] is speaking for Jeremy Corbyn or Vladimir Putin, but he’s certainly not speaking for me, the majority of Labour MPs, or the strong internationalist traditions of Attlee and Bevin. It is truly shameful.’
Umunna tweeted: ‘Have read the comments of the Leader of the Opposition’s spokesperson. Mr Milne’s comments do not represent the views of the majority of our voters, members or MPs’
Turley said: ‘Seumas doesn’t speak for my Labour or British values’
Indirectly hostile, aka ‘political enemies’
Labour MPs who for one reason or another would rather not go on record criticising Corbyn or the Leader’s Office have still managed to let their disapproval be known. Many MPs have indirectly criticised Corbyn’s response by complimenting Theresa May’s.
‘I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Her conclusion about the culpability of the Russian state is immensely serious. In addition to its breaches of international law, its use of chemical weapons and its continued disregard for the rule of law and human rights, that must be met with unequivocal condemnation.’
‘I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, agree with her analysis and fully support the Government’s actions.’
‘I join others in welcoming the measures that the Prime Minister has announced today. As Russia has chosen to act against us in such an outrageous way, we have to demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves.’
‘I assure the Prime Minister that most of us on the Labour Benches fully support the measures she has announced today. Indeed, some of us think they could have come a bit sooner.’
‘I completely support everything the Prime Minister has said today. The truth is that under Putin the Russian Federation has managed to combine all the worst facets of communism and all the worst facets of rampant capitalism, all wrapped up inside a national security state that keeps its people poor and kills his political opponents.’
‘As a strong advocate for the defence and security of our country, I am another one who supports the Prime Minister’s statement today.’
‘I endorse the actions that the Prime Minister has taken and the unavoidable conclusion she has come to.’
Other Labour MPs publicly endorsing the PMs statement on Wednesday were Margaret Hodge, Derek Twigg, Stephen Doughty, Luciana Berger, Madeleine Moon, Phil Wilson, Emma Reynolds, Tony Lloyd, David Hanson, Sarah Jones, Rupa Huq, Diana Johnson, Chris Matheson and Paul Sweeney.
Mr S counts that at 30 Labour MPs at least who could be described as Corbyn’s ‘political enemies’, as per Chris Williamson’s position. How many of them will have the courage of their convictions at the next election?