Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has lashed out at opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, accusing them of trying to “destroy” the Labour Party in order to get rid of their leader.
Mr McDonnell said there was a “small group” within the party responsible for the current turmoil which has seen it beset by allegations of bullying, intimidation and abuse.
We are not looking at the moment like a government-in-waiting. We don’t look like a credible powerful oppositionOwen Smith
His comments came after former shadow minister Seema Malhotra disclosed she had lodged a formal complaint with the Speaker, John Bercow, after staff working for Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell entered her House of Commons office without permission.
Speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr McDonnell challenged critics of the leadership to confront them directly and not to “pick on” staff who were not in a position to defend themselves.
“We have got to stop this now. There is a small group out there that are willing to destroy our party just to remove Jeremy Corbyn. We have got to stop them,” he said.
“If you want to come for me and Jeremy that’s up to you, but don’t pick on staff who can’t defend themselves.”
Ms Malhotra said the unauthorised entry by staff into her office constituted a serious breach of parliamentary privilege. She said: “The implications of this are extremely serious. This is a breach of parliamentary privilege and is a violation of the privacy, security and confidentiality of a member of parliament’s office.
“Furthermore, my staff, including an intern, who have always been courteous and open, have felt harassed, intimidated and insecure, and decided themselves it would be best to not leave anyone alone in the office.”
Mr McDonnell said the office manager concerned had simply been checking whether Ms Malhotra had moved out of the office after quitting as shadow chief Treasury secretary last month in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
Mr McDonnell accepted that he and Mr Corbyn had made “mistakes” since winning the leadership last year and they would have to resign if they lost the next general election.
“That would be inevitable, wouldn’t it? Every Labour leader who loses an election usually goes,” he said.
Leadership challenger Owen Smith – the former shadow work and pensions secretary – said the party was on “its knees” and could split if Mr Corbyn remained at the helm.
Mr Smith said: “We are not looking at the moment like a government-in-waiting.
“We don’t look like a credible powerful opposition, one that people could imagine running the country.”