Labour MPs dig in for new cold war with Jeremy Coryn and Seumas Milne
Moderate Labour MPs are lining up against Team Corbyn, but at least one former operative is staying loyal.
Disagreements between Jeremy Corbyn’s top lieutenants and moderate Labour MPs are back with a vengeance after the Labour leader’s response to Russia.
First, Corbyn refused to condemn Russia for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal. Then his spokesman fanned the flames when he questioned the validity of the UK's own intelligence-gathering prior to the Iraq war and suggested another former Soviet Union state may in fact be responsible.
Speaking to lobby hacks in the post-PMQs briefing, Seumas Milne said: “I think obviously the government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t; however, also there’s a history in relation to WMD and intelligence which is problematic to put it mildly.”
Since then, a host of MPs have appeared to distance themselves from Corbyn and Milne.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith insisted Labour supported the government’s actions and “fully accepts that Russia is responsible”. She added: “I can’t speak for Seumas Milne, he clearly has to speak for himself."
Even the usually super-loyal shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry declared in the Commons that there was “prima facie evidence” against Russia, and supported all the measures announced by the government in response to it.
A series of Labour backbench MPs including Yvette Cooper, Ben Bradshaw and Hilary Benn also backed the government’s condemnation of Russia in the Commons yesterday.
Hammering the message home, a Commons motion “accepting the culpability of the Russian state” has been tabled by John Woodcock – and backed by 15 other MPs. And Owen Smith has endorsed an editorial in The Guardian which describes Corbyn's response to the prime minister yesterday as "dispiriting".
Privately, many Labour MPs are furious with Corbyn and Miline. Or as one put it: "People are fucking livid."
So who is siding with the leader and his deputy communications chief? Step forward the Labour leader’s former deputy communications chief Steve Howell, who took to Twitter to express "surprise" that his MP Stephen Doughty had signed the Woodcock motion unequivocally accepting Russian culpability for the crime.
"Beyond all reasonable doubt? Strong stuff. Might prove right. But I'd like some due process before a Labour MP 'fully supports' the Tories," he stated, a tad provocatively.