Labour MPs hit out at suggestions they want to replace Jeremy Corbyn

Rajeev Syal
Clive Lewis said he was wholly supportive of Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

MPs seen as possible successors to Jeremy Corbyn have criticised suggestions that they want to replace the Labour leader.

Clive Lewis said he was annoyed by the suggestion, while his replacement as shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, also hit out on Sunday at reports linking her with the leadership, calling them fake news.

Rumours claiming that both are being prepared to replace Corbyn have swirled around Westminster for many months.

Lewis, who stood down from the shadow cabinet over his views on Brexit, said he was wholly supportive of Corbyn.

But speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, he said it was possible that claims about him have deliberately been pushed by figures close to Corbyn who have “their own agendas”.

Asked whether he could ever envisage serving as leader, Lewis said it was a possibility but he had made no plans.

“Never say never, I will say that. But at this moment in time we have a twice democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.

He suggested some close to Corbyn could be responsible for keeping the speculation going.

“It’s possible, it’s possible. If your name keeps coming up you’re going to be a target for people who have their own agendas and you may not be part of that agenda,” he said.

In a separate interview, Long-Bailey said the party’s ninth safest seat could no longer be guaranteed as a Labour win.

As the party prepares to fight to keep Manchester Gorton after the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman, Long-Bailey said MPs could not “ever call a seat a safe seat nowadays”.

Her claim came after senior party figures called for unity over the disastrous loss in the Copeland byelection to the Tories.

It is the first time a governing party has taken a seat from the opposition party in more than a century.

Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Long-Bailey said the contest for the Manchester seat, with a 24,079 majority in 2015 on 67% of the vote, would be hard fought.

“I don’t think you can ever call a seat a safe seat nowadays. I think you have to work hard to convince the electorate that you’re the party for them. We have had a difficult 18 months. I don’t think anybody disputes that.”

Manchester Gorton 2015 results

Long-Bailey, along with Lewis and Angela Rayner, has been mentioned by Labour’s leftwing supporters as a possible successor to Corbyn.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, one of Corbyn’s closest allies, said he would consider meeting Tony Blair as he seeks to heal party wounds. It follows claims by Peter Mandelson that he was working “every single day” to bring Corbyn’s leadership to an end.

McDonnell claimed last week that a “soft coup” to oust the leader was under way, but then said he had changed his mind.

When asked on BBC1’s the Andrew Marr Show who was leading the coup, he said there were a “number of people” within the party who were “stirring” before last month’s byelections in Copeland and Stoke Central.

McDonnell said: “There must have been people on the end of [Mandelson’s] line and the end of that email chain to receive it.”

When asked whether he would also be willing to have a cup of tea with Blair, he said: “Of course. I am willing to talk to anybody. We need advice from everybody.”

McDonnell was also asked about a push to change Labour rules to make it easier for a leftwing candidate to make it onto the ballot paper in a future leadership election.

He said: “Jeremy Corbyn will lead us into the next election. Of course we are building up a succession for the long-term future and we have got some really great young talent coming through but they need more experience before eventually they will succeed.”

Meanwhile Ed Balls, the former shadow chancellor whose popularity has soared after his appearance on Strictly Come Dancing, said: “If I was [Theresa May] I’d be calling early general election to destroy Labour, because Labour are currently rather weak.”

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