Simon Danczuk: 'Jeremy is taking heed of what I say'
Simon Danczuk is perplexed. The outspoken Rochdale MP is mulling over a recent letter sent to Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol calling for him face disciplinary action.
His crime? Danczuk writes regularly for two of the UK’s most-read newspapers, The Sun and Mail on Sunday. And according to the letter writers, he uses the platforms to issue “sustained attacks against the leader of the Labour party” in a manner which are “clearly prejudicial to the party”.
Sitting in his Westminster office, the Labour MP is trying to make sense of the letter, which has been doing the rounds in Corbynista circles. And he isn't getting very far.
He says: “I don’t understand that really. I mean the people that have put that letter together clearly don’t buy into Jeremy’s new politics. Where Jeremy has been a breath of fresh air is in allowing a bigger debate, encouraging a bigger debate within the Labour party. And I am part of that bigger debate, and that’s positive isn’t it? So I can’t understand why they are trying to be antagonistic around these issues.”
Danczuk is not the only Labour MP to have been targeted by Corbyn supporters who are frustrated at his refusal to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the leader.
He says there does appear to be a “small minority” who are looking to deselect Labour MPs unwilling to tow the party line and questions how it will help the party up its game.
“I don’t think that’s healthy, I think it’s quite destructive. And if we want to win elections in May next year and beyond and into 2020, then I think we need to be more united and more constructive, rather than destructive. I think some of this around Momentum and these Labour party members who are talking about deselection, I think it’s exceptionally unhelpful.
“I think some of what’s being said has to be ignored. That’s how the party reconciles that, by ignoring some of the foghorns on the far left that are trying to cause trouble.”
But how easy does he find it to ignore the numerous Corbyn supporters looking to tear strips off him on Twitter?
“Some Corbynites are really offensive actually. I mean not just swearing and abuse, verbal abuse, but making references to mental health issues and things like that. [It is] really despicable, and [they are] being aggressive towards people around me. Some of the stuff is just really, really offensive,” he says.
“One would have thought, I thought, people on the left of centre in politics would be much more comradely than what some of these people are. I think they do Jeremy a disservice actually, because Jeremy is a very nice, thoughtful comrade, and I’m sure he is as appalled by some of what’s been said in his name as I am.”
Danczuk has never been afraid to speaking his mind, which almost certainly explains why he was recently courted by ITV executives to take part in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
Perched forward on his seat, he is keen to explain his dalliances with the media and why going on the ITV show might open up UK politics to a wider audience.
“I’m a great believer in trying to get politics out there to people. That’s one of the big plusses for Jeremy, he has reinvigorated politics,” he says.
“So, I’m a Celebrity – would it get politics out to a wider audience? Perhaps it would. I do a lot more in the tabloids than many politicians would; that has its plusses and its negatives, but it takes politics out there and it gets people talking about politics which hasn’t been done as well as it could have been. I wouldn’t rule anything out in terms of trying to get politics out there and to a broader section of people.”
Could Danczuk go further than simply speaking out and run as a so-called stalking horse against Corbyn?
This was the suggestion that surfaced in the Independent on Sunday after Danczuk spoke to the paper and discussed Labour’s future. But two weeks later it seems that the Rochdale MP insists nothing has moved on this front.
“The question was really a hypothetical question and I’m surprised it ended up being splashed on the front page,” he says.
“I mean I would prefer that Jeremy does well in the elections in May next year, gets in a good place in terms of the right sort of policies to take us forward, and then takes us into the general election in 2020 and wins it. Then there’s no need for any stalking horse or any other mechanism for moving Jeremy on. So that’s my ideal, that Jeremy romps home in 2020. That would be fantastic news, wouldn’t it?”
Pressed on whether any of his colleagues were keen to see him play a role in toppling Corbyn, Danczuk suggests not but also insists he received “no negative reaction” to the story.
However, Danczuk is adamant that next year’s Holyrood, local and London mayoral elections will determine Corbyn’s immediate and long-term future as leader.
“One of the key tests is the elections next year,” he says, lowering his brow. “If he wins London then I think he’s doing very well, and I think he’ll be solid and keep going from there. If he does alright in the local elections, I think that helps him again. If he makes any inroads in Scotland then he’s really on an up. So these are the tests for him.
“It’s not just Scotland though; I think it is a combination of any of those results. I think there’ll be a problem if he lost London, I think that’ll be a major problem.”
Danczuk has made no secret of the fact he is not Corbyn’s biggest fan. But he has also made it clear on a number of occasions that he will not be leaving the party any time soon. So could he be tempted by a third option – a centre-left progressive alliance?
Liberal Democrat grandee Lord Ashdown recently mooted such action, calling for moderates from across various centre-left parties to have a “conversation”. But Danczuk is far from convinced.
He says: “I couldn’t imagine any instance where Labour should get into bed with the Liberal Democrats, I have to say. One; they’re a spent force. Two; I think they’re ideologically weak. Three; I think, I’m not trying to be impolite really, but the way they do politics is not very attractive.
“So I don’t think we should be getting into bed with them. Paddy Ashdown, I mean they sound desperate really don’t they? Which is what they are.”
But his contempt for the Lib Dems aside, there may be another reason that Danczuk is staying firmly in the Labour fold. It may sound unlikely to some, but the Rochdale MP suggests he is become something of a power behind the Corbyn throne.
“The good news is that he seems to heed what I say. So I encouraged him to wear the red poppy and not a white poppy, which he has gone on to do. I pressed him to sing the national anthem in future, which he has gone on to do. I asked him to engage more positively with the royal family and the Queen, which he has gone on to do.
“So I think he takes constructive criticism well actually and picks up on it.”