Anti-Corbyn MPs organising around Owen Smith’s leadership campaign are holding Labour to ransom under the “threat” of a split, the shadow chancellor has said.
John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally, said “Owen Smith’s friends” were using the possibility of a damaging separation to drive votes towards their chosen candidate.
He said he did not believe Mr Smith himself was involved in the calls and called on the candidate to “denounce” the threats.
“I just think this is a wrong tactic in a leadership election,” Mr McDonnell told the Today programme.
“Effectively the message that’s coming across from some of Owen Smith’s friends is that you either vote for Owen Smith or we’ll split the party.
“That’s a threat and I don’t think that’s acceptable and I don’t think that’s what Owen wants either. I look on him as a friend.”
The Independent has contacted Mr Smith’s campaign for a response.
At the weekend it was reported that a number of Labour MPs were readying a legal challenge against their party in order to take control of its brand and assets.
These MPs would then elect a new party leader of their own from among their own number, effectively bypassing the leadership election result, the Daily Telegraph said.
The newspaper quoted multiple MPs who appeared to back the move, though other opponents of Mr Corbyn are understood to not be onboard.
A study by YouGov released yesterday found that a split by either side in Labour’s internecine struggle would likely have a devastating effect on both camps.
Mr McDonnell this morning went on to say he and Mr Corbyn would happily “unite behind” Owen Smith if he won the leadership contest, and called on Mr Smith to make a similar call.
“We’re democrats – whoever is the leader of the Labour party we will unite behind,” he said.
Mr Corbyn and Mr Smith will go head-to-head in the first hustings of the leadership campaign in Cardiff on Thursday evening.
The results of the election will be released before the party’s conference in Liverpool in the autumn.
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