John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, issued a call for unity to Labour MPs in the week of the budget, saying there should be contrition all round – including from himself – over infighting that has dogged the party in recent months.
At the party’s weekly meeting of parliamentarians, he said disunity
only helped the Conservative party, as he offered meetings with any MP
or peer who wants to join him for a cup of tea.
McDonnell also claimed last week the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn,
was facing a “soft coup” and an “exceptionally well-resourced dark
arts operation” against the Labour leadership from some elements
within the party. His office later played down the comments which were written in the wake of Tony Blair’s intervention in the Brexit debate directly before
two crucial byelections in Stoke, which was held, and Copeland, which
was lost to the Tories.
Peter Mandelson, the Labour peer and former cabinet minister, also claimed around the same time that he was working “every single day” to bring Corbyn’s leadership to an end.
McDonnell extended an olive branch at the meeting after praising MPs
from all wings of the party for their work on preparing for the budget
and listed the party’s priorities for holding Philip Hammond to
account over the public finances.
At the budget speech on Wednesday, Labour is planning to criticise the
government for neglecting to tackle low pay, and failing to give
adequate funding to the NHS and social care, while allowing tax
giveaways for the super-rich and corporations.
The party has been under pressure in recent weeks over its poor
polling against the Conservatives, and the loss of Copeland in Cumbria
for the first time since the seat was created in 1982.
Two leading MPs, Clive Lewis and Rebecca Long-Bailey, hit out on
Sunday at rumours that they were being lined up as possible leftwing successors
to Corbyn if the polling fails to improve within a year.
Lewis, who stood down from the shadow cabinet over his views on Brexit, said he was wholly supportive of Corbyn, while Long-Bailey rejected reports linking her with the leadership, calling them fake news.