Labour’s war spirals out of control

Angela Eagle has been subjected to a torrent of abuse on the internet from Corbyn supporters © Reuters

Rape threats; homophobic abuse; bricks thrown through windows, MPs barracked and jeered by angry crowds.

Jeremy Corbyn called for “kinder, gentler politics” after Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, was murdered last month. But that noble sentiment has melted in the heat of the battle for control of the Labour party.

On Friday, police in Scotland arrested a man over an emailed death threat to Angela Eagle, one of Mr Corbyn’s challengers. Other Labour MPs have also reported threats. Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, was told she would “get it like Jo Cox did”.

Ms Eagle has been subjected to a torrent of abuse on the internet from Corbyn supporters, including being labelled a “treacherous lesbian”. Workers at her constituency office in Wallasey unplugged the phone three weeks ago because of the volume of offensive calls.

The viciousness of Labour’s leadership battle has left politicians feeling like they have been teleported back to the 1980s, when their party was last ripped apart by the battle between moderates and militants.

But this time it is the hard left in charge of the leader’s office — and trying to resist a coup by the Labour establishment.

Labour MPs have accused elements within Momentum, the activist group set up to support Mr Corbyn last year, of orchestrating the ground war. Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, has asked Mr Corbyn to “call off these Momentum thugs”.

“This is what happens when you have the politics of protest: it causes division, incitement, violence and intimidation,” said Mr Bradshaw.

Momentum denies that it encourages any threats or intimidation and said it was taking legal advice over Mr Bradshaw’s “vile smear”.

Mr Corbyn has himself said the abuse should end, saying that he has also been the target of death threats in recent days.

But Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead since 1979, says he is reminded of the 1980s when the leaders of hard-left groups turned a blind eye to such behaviour. “Back then their spokesmen would say ‘No, I didn’t see any intimidation, I would have stopped it’. But it would keep on going. That is happening again.”

On Wednesday, 300 people packed into a sweaty trade union hall in Manchester for the debut meeting of the local branch of Momentum.

The audience was a mix of new Labour members, drawn to the party by Mr Corbyn, and old Labour hands who had grown disillusioned during the Tony Blair years.

They were given advice on how Momentum can win positions in local branches so that — over time — a greater number of leftwing MPs and administrators are selected.

Alex Davison, a local committee member, told the meeting that Labour’s current MPs had “plunged our party into chaos”.

“This is our huge opportunity. I see…an army of people ready to go out there and campaign for Jeremy’s re-election but also ready to get organised and take back the Labour party.”

Mr Davison told the FT the meeting had been moved from a smaller venue because of the huge numbers of people concerned about the threat to Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

“There was a visceral reaction. Before they were all at home on laptops, on social media. Now they want to get involved in the politics of the party.”

Many of the attendees agreed that MPs disloyal to Mr Corbyn should lose their seats.

Daniel Ross, 32, who recently rejoined Labour after leaving in 2008, said the shadow cabinet moved against Mr Corbyn because they feared he would be successful electorally. The solicitor said: “A lot of those MPs could be deselected.”

Adam White, a long-term leftwing member, told the meeting that the “poisonous” atmosphere in some constituency parties had to stop. “The most disappointed [person] would be Jeremy,” he said. “Politics is about persuading people.”

Speaking on his way into the meeting, Tom Ednes, 33, said Mr Corbyn was a “different type of politician” who could win an election if given time. He said his son goes to a special school that has had its budget cut by £500,000. “That’s just an example of what austerity is doing.”

Labour’s national executive committee has now cancelled all constituency meetings for the duration of the current leadership contest, which will not conclude until the end of September.

Momentum activists claim this is anti-democratic but Tessa Jowell, a former cabinet minister, said: “The fact that the party has had to cancel all these meetings because of the rise of violence and intimidation is beyond anything imaginable. It is an outrage to our democratic party.”

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