Jeremy Corbyn has declared that he will not stop local party members from criticising their local Labour MPs – just hours after another backbencher was threatened with censure for her stance on anti-semitism.
Speaking to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Corbyn stressed he wanted a “broad church” of views, but pointedly said that he personally knows what it is like to be “the target of a no confidence vote”.
His defiant stance – which came two years after many of his MPs took part in a failed attempt to remove him – came as it emerged that Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield was facing formal criticism from her local constituency party.
Duffield, the city’s first ever Labour MP, was criticised by activists on Monday for attending a Parliament Square demonstration this summer that they claimed “groundlessly” accused the party of systemic anti-semitism. They also attacked her support for the Jewish Labour Movement.
At a packed meeting in the House of Commons, Corbyn told the PLP he was determined to protect the right of criticism and debate – but the first priority was to unseat the Tories.
He also said: “I know what it feels like to be the target of a no confidence vote, but it would be wrong for me to intervene in the democratic rights of any part of the Labour Party.”
A spokesman said after the meeting that Corbyn had made clear his support for the rights party members and that it was “not his place” to intervene in local motions.
The spokesman stressed that the Labour leader wanted all local meetings to be held with an atmosphere of “respect”.
“He talked about accountability. He said it’s not his place to be involved in the democratic decisions of different parts of the Labour party. It’s a matter for them.
“But he also spoke against any kind of intimidation or malpractice in meetings and anything of that kind will be investigated.”
The spokesman said that no confidence votes “are always going to be controversial and sensitive for the people who are being subjected to that”.
“And feelings often run high in those circumstances but the meetings must be conducted properly and according to rules and both Jeremy and [General Secretary] Jennie Formby made that point.
“He has been subjected to a no confidence vote, that was a light-hearted point, by the PLP two years ago. And then he was re-elected on a larger majority and then he went into a general election where he won the biggest increase in Labour’s vote since 1945.
“So, he was making the point that everybody is subject to democratic accountability. But these things have to be conducted properly and without abuse of any kind.”
Labour MP Alex Sobel urged Corbyn to visit Canterbury to support his backbencher.
Veteran MP Siobhan McDonagh said after the PLP meeting: “Rosie Duffield has been an MP for 18 months. She is a young woman who is facing a disciplinary meeting on Wednesday.
“It is incumbent on all of us who have been around a lot longer to make sure that meeting is conducted in a proper and respectful way to both the members and to Rosie.
“And the idea that the leader of our party has no responsibility for that is completely wrong. And I simply say that as a human being and not as a politician.”
A spokesman for Corbyn said that he had told the PLP of his own visit to Canterbury “and the respect with which he found local people regarded the MP”.
“But it’s not his role to become involved in the decisions of local CLPs. It’s not his place as leader of the Labour party.
“MPs are accountable to their electors and to local Labour party members. MPs they recognised it’s important to retain the confidence of your local Labour party members and the vast majority of Labour MPs do.”
Labour MPs Joan Ryan, Gavin Shuker, Frank Field and Kate Hoey have all seen votes of no confidence passed against them by their local parties in recent weeks.
Enfield North MP Ryan and Luton South MP Shuker came under fire for their criticism of the party for its failures to grip the problem of anti-semitism.
Ryan – whose local meeting was recorded by Iran-backed Press TV – outlined her treatment at the PLP meeting, one MP said.
The Canterbury party’s motion of censure, which is due to be discussed on Wednesday night, was prompted by activists who were upset that Duffield had told a Jewish Labour Movement conference that some MPs could go ‘on strike’ if an international definition on anti-semitism was not adopted.
The party’s ruling NEC sought to draw a line under the row last week by approving the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition and all its examples.
The Canterbury Labour party motion states: “We have observed the words and conduct of our Labour MP, Rosie Duffield and we are dissatisfied at her decision to involve herself with groups and organisations that are campaigning to damage our party, as well as impede its efforts to ensure the right to criticise crimes committed by the state of Israel.
“We are particularly concerned that Rosie chose to show her support for these parties at a demonstration organised to groundlessly accuse the party of systematic anti-semitism.
“She compounded this conduct by carelessly appearing to threaten the leader at a meeting of an organisation which, though affiliated with the Labour Party, does not at all times share its priorities. With regret, this CLP censures Rosie Duffield for this conduct.
“We also urge her to consult with and seek guidance from the democratically elected officers of the Canterbury Constituency Labour Party on issues of this level of contention.
“On matters of political sensitivity the democratic support of this CLP will clearly strengthen her position in dealing with others.”
Duffield herself has denied such claims, saying earlier this year her attendance at the Parliament Square protest “was not about Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership, although I accept some have tried to make it about that”.
Some local activists will try to get the motion defeated.
Labour MP Anna Turley expressed her support for her colleague.
Luciana Berger could not attend the PLP meeting because of Jewish New Year but fellow MP John Mann asked on her behalf whether Corbyn would push for wider ‘free speech’ exemptions for those critical of Israel.