Jeremy Corbyn has gone on the attack against critics who accuse him of being wrong on major policy issues and failing to win the kind of public support Labour needs to make a political recovery.
He told a tense meeting of MPs and peers who make up the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that he wanted those who opposed him to stop “sniping” and be more “respectful” when voicing their opinions.
After the 75-minute meeting, his spokesman told journalists that the Labour leader had “faced down his critics” – a claim instantly contradicted by some of those same critics.
The spokesman added: “Jeremy made clear the sniping and name calling was counter-productive for the whole party and Labour’s position in the country. The mainstream of the PLP asserted itself – there was clear support for more unity and for Jeremy’s leadership. There was a clear sea change in the atmosphere within the PLP.”
He added: “He made clear that of course debate is essential, but it has to be conducted in a way that is respectful – there mustn’t be sniping and abuse. This kind of behaviour is damaging to the Labour Party and that clearly was understood by the majority of MPs.
“There is unhappiness among the membership about the way that a minority have behaved in recent months, in particular the public sniping and attacks. That clearly has to stop. It doesn’t reflect the mainstream.”
Mr Corbyn told MPs that during his long career as a backbench critic of previous Labour leaders, he always took care not to snipe at or abuse those with whom he disagreed. His spokesman acknowledged that there had been criticism of the leader voiced during the meeting but said that it had been done in “a much more measured way” than during previous confrontations.
The Labour leader has courted controversy in recent days by speaking at a CND rally in support of the abolition of Trident nuclear weapons, which is not currently the official policy of the Labour Party, and by calling at the weekend for the decriminalisation of prostitution. He is also accused of failing to show any enthusiasm for the cause of staying in the EU – a claim which his spokesman denied.
There had been fears that his appearance before the PLP on Monday night could deteriorate into a shouting match, but his team was clearly relieved afterwards that though he had been criticised to his face, voices were not raised in anger.
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
1/11 He called Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’
True. In a speech made to the Stop the War Coalition in 2009, Mr Corbyn called representatives from both groups “friends” after inviting them to Parliament. He later told Channel 4 he wanted both groups, who have factions designated as international terror organisations, to be “part of the debate” for the Middle East peace process. “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he added. “Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
2/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy’
Partly false. David Cameron used this as a line of attack at the Conservative Party conference but appears to have left out all context from Mr Corbyn’s original remarks. In an 2011 interview on Iranian television, the then-backbencher said the fact the al-Qaeda leader was not put on trial was the tragedy, continuing: “The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.”
3/11 He is ‘haunted’ by the legacy of his ‘evil’ great-great-grandfather
False. A Daily Express exposé revealed that the Labour leader’s ancestor, James Sargent, was the “despotic” master of a Victorian workhouse. Addressing the report at the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he had never heard of him before, adding: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not doing the decent thing and going back in time and having a chat with him about his appalling behaviour.”
4/11 Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion about ‘pigeon bombs’ in Parliament
This one is true. On 21 May 2004, Mr Corbyn raised an early day motion entitled “pigeon bombs”, proposing that the House register being “appalled but barely surprised” that MI5 reportedly proposed to load pigeons with explosives as a weapon. The motion continued: “The House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.” It was not carried.
5/11 He rides a Communist bicycle
False. A report in The Times referred to Mr Corbyn, known for his cycling, riding a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle” earlier this year. “Less thorough journalists might have referred to it as just a bicycle, but no, so we have to conclude that whenever we see somebody on a bicycle from now on, there goes another supporter of Chairman Mao,” he later joked.
6/11 'Jeremy Corbyn will appoint a special minister for Jews'
False so far. The Sun report in December was allegedly based on a “rumour” passed to the paper by a Daily Express columnist who has written pieces critical of the Labour leader in the past. The minister did not materialise in his shadow cabinet.
7/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn wishes Britain would abolish its Army’
False. Another gem from The Sun took comments made at a Hiroshima remembrance parade in August 2012 where Mr Corbyn supported Costa Rica’s move to abolish it armed forces. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world…abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army,” he added. The caveat that “every politician” must take the step suggests Mr Corbyn does not support UK disarmament just yet.
8/11 Jeremy Corbyn stole sandwiches meant for veterans
False. The Guido Fawkes blog claimed that the Labour leader took sandwiches meant for veterans at at Battle of Britain memorial service in September but a photo later emerged showing him being handed one by Costa volunteers, who later confirmed they were given to all guests.
9/11 He missed the induction into the Queen’s privy council
True. After much speculation about Mr Corbyn’s republican views and willingness to bow to the monarch, his office confirmed that he did not attend the official induction to the privy council because of a prior engagement, but did not rule out joining the body.
10/11 Jeremy Corbyn refuses to sing the national anthem.
Partly true. The Labour leader was filmed standing in silence as God Save the Queen was sung at a Battle of Britain remembrance service but will reportedly sing it in future. Mr Corbyn was elusive on the issue in an interview, saying he would show memorials “respect in the proper way”, but sources said he would sing the anthem at future occasions.
11/11 He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
True. The group lists its purpose as the following: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
But one Labour MP who has been persistently critical of Mr Corbyn said scathingly: “If that was a positive meeting, I’d hate to see a negative meeting. Most of the questions were critical of Jeremy.
“MPs were frustrated and disappointed about what he had said about sex workers. One MP read out Jeremy’s poll ratings, which were the worst poll ratings of any new leader since polling began, and asked him how long he was going to take to turn that around. Several MPs said he wasn’t doing anything to put a positive case for Europe together.
“His dwindling band of supporters said that we shouldn’t talk to the press, then his spokesman went out and told journalists that he had faced down his critics. The only thing you can say about that fantasy briefing is that it comes in the week after World Book Week that was celebrating fiction.”