Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have been condemned for launching online personal attacks on his rivals for the Labour leadership, and accused of adopting the bullying tactics of the “cybernats” during the Scottish referendum campaign.
Writing in The Independent, Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s communications director, said: “Corbyn himself is a nice guy, but I am not so sure about some of his friends. There is a real cybernat feel to some of his supporters and their zealous belief that even to suggest he is not the man to lead us back into power is a form of treason.”
Responding to Mr Campbell’s criticism, the Corbyn campaign said: “We are keeping it positive and focusing on the choice about investment and growth, not austerity and cuts that damage recovery.” Mr Corbyn has said: “There is no place for personal animosity, negative campaigning, and saying or doing anything now that will damage our ability to work together as one party.”
Scottish National Party supporters were widely condemned for their vitriolic attacks on politicians, businessmen and others who spoke out against independence ahead of last September’s referendum.
Mr Campbell’s criticism was joined by the leadership candidate Liz Kendall, who has been branded a “Tory” in scores of messages on social media and also faced personal abuse. One Corbyn ally, Jon Lansman, directed his Twitter followers to a spoof “Liz Kendall for Tory leader” website. Another Corbyn supporter branded Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary, a “fascist” after he backed Yvette Cooper for the leadership. His tweet has now been deleted.
Ms Kendall told The Independent: “These kind of vitriolic and sometimes really nasty things that have been said, is not how we should do our politics. Jeremy [Corbyn] does not condone it. I think more should be done to call it out.”
She revealed that one Labour councillor, who she declined to name, had been threatened with deselection for supporting her. “You cannot have people being threatened because they have different views or support different candidates. That is unacceptable,” she said.
Tony Blair warns that under Mr Corbyn, Labour would face “rout, possibly annihilation” at the 2020 election and a defeat worse than its 1983 drubbing under Michael Foot. Writing in The Guardian, the former Prime Minister says: “The Labour Party is in danger more mortal today than at any point in the over 100 years of its existence….The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes ‘disunity’. It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible.”
The campaign teams of Ms Kendall, Ms Cooper and Andy Burnham made a joint complaint to Labour HQ that Mr Corbyn could be given an unfair advantage under a chaotic voting system that has seen 409,000 people sign up as members or supporters since the May general election.
Labour was under mounting pressure to delay the contest after a remarkable last-minute surge saw 164,000 people sign up on 12 August, the deadline for securing a vote. Some 610,753 may now be allowed to take part - 299,755 full members; 189,703 trade unionists and 121,295 registered supporters.
The figures provoked a call by Electoral Reform Society for Labour to delay the contest, after claims that people who support other parties have signed up to vote for Mr Corbyn.
Darren Hughes, the society’s deputy chief executive, said: "It’s obvious that there are some people who don’t genuinely support Labour who have signed up and shouldn’t be able to take part. But instead of getting things started and then destroying some votes later on if they find people from other parties, Labour should delay sending out the ballots for a few more days so they can sort this out before it gets worse.”
The three rivals camps believe Mr Corbyn may secure earlier access than them to the names of trade unionists who have become affiliated supporters, as the left-winger has won the support of major unions such as Unite and Unison. The three teams may have to wait 10 days for their lists of those eligible to vote. Ballot papers will be sent out from 14 August and many people are expected to vote within 48 hours.
In a joint letter, the three campaigns said: “This would not be a level playing field for all candidates.”
The Corbyn camp denied it would see any lists before its opponents. A spokeswoman for the campaign said:"As it has been reported that affiliated supporters' data is likely to be made available to campaigns with respective union support, from Jeremy's campaign we wish to be clear: this is, simply, factually inaccurate - all campaigns get the same data at the same time."
On 13 August Ms Cooper will address “Corbynmania” head on as she appeals to Labour members not to elect the veteran left-winger and will reject his “old ideas from the past.” Speaking in Manchester, Ms Cooper will spell out the cost of Labour losing the 2020 election, warning that it could not win under Mr Corbyn. Admitting that her message may cost her votes, she will say the future of the party and country is more important. Cooper allies have criticised Mr Burnham for not taking on Mr Corbyn.
Responding to Mr Campbell’s criticism, the Corbyn campaign said: “We are keeping it positive and focusing on the choice about investment and growth, not austerity and cuts that damage recovery." It has stressed that Mr Lansman’s tweets are not part of its campaign and Mr Corbyn has said: “There is no place for personal animosity, negative campaigning, and saying or doing anything now that will damage our ability to work together as one party.”
Online trolling: The offending tweets
Mike Tinnion: Watching Sunday Politics (a bit late) if Liz Kendall wins, we’re f*****, she might as well blue rinse her hair, and call herself Margaret.
Dr Chris Jones: Nothing new about Kendall. Just a throwback to discredited crypto-Tory politics of Blair. New Labour is so...yesterday. #Corbyn
Tom Delargy: Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall are all unelectable for many reasons. Why vote for them when there are already three Tory parties?
Alex Scott: Back Liz Kendall for Labour leadership, so working class people can get fucked over by two political parties instead of one. Some slogan.
Fourfoot: Yep, there it is. A letter from Liz Kendall. A commitment to f****** f*** all from the thinking man’s shit sandwich.