Chuka Umunna today condemned “nasty, bullying and racist behaviour” in the Labour Party amid a furious public row with Diane Abbott.
He hit out after Ms Abbott, the shadow home secretary, questioned his commitment to race equality and other forms of equality in an extraordinary attack on her former colleague.
Mr Umunna, who left Labour to co-found The Independent Group of MPs, told the Standard: “It is, in part, precisely because of the nasty, bullying, racist behaviour of a significant number of Labour members, and the leadership’s collective failure to deal with it, that I left the party.”
In a recent interview, Mr Umunna said that supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who joined his old Labour branch did not reflect the ethnic make-up of his south London constituency, which has one of the highest levels of BME voters.
The Streatham MP went on: “Above all my constituency, which scored the highest Remain vote in the country, elected an MP that would fight Brexit which is what I am doing and why the overwhelming majority of correspondence from constituents has supported me going independent - the Labour Party’s leadership wants to facilitate Brexit which is not acceptable to those I represent.”
Ms Abbott fired the first shot in the row at the weekend by launching a Labour campaign to unseat Mr Umunna at an event organised by left-wing group Momentum.
In a speech to around 130 activists at Streatham Common, she said: “Our task is to get the people in this part of South London...to get them their Labour MP back.
“They need a Labour MP that will fight for equalities, race equality, gender equality, LGBTQ+ equality in a way that Chuka is not standing up for.”
Ms Abbott’s criticism of Mr Umunna’s record on race equality stood in sharp contrast to comments she made in 2015 when she lavished praise on him in a Standard interview and said he would have made a “brilliant leader” of the party.
Mr Umunna has been a target since his decision to leave the party and since he accused Labour last September of becoming “institutionally racist” over of its poor handling of anti-Semitism.
The decision by Momentum to pour activists into the safe seat, where Labour had a solid 26,000 majority at the 2017 election, has divided Labour MPs facing local elections. MP Lilian Greenwood MP tweeted at left-winger Owen Jones, who spoke at the event: “Can’t help thinking that with an actual by-election going on in Newport & local council elections all over the place on 2nd May, there are more important places to be knocking doors than Streatham.”
A by-election in the far more marginal Newport West in Wales taking place on April 4 and local elections are being held around the country outside London in May. Momentum has advertised various campaigning events in the seat.
Momentum is organising canvassing events in the seats of other Labour MPs who quit to join The Independent Group, including Angela Smith in Penistone & Stocksbridge and Ann Coffey in Stockport.
They are gathering signatures from residents demanding by-elections, although under current electoral rules by-elections do not automatically take place if an MP changes political party.