UK Politics

Hilary Benn urges Labour MPs to 'stay and fight'

Corbyn and Benn Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hilary Benn has urged Labour MPs not to "get into the gutter" with those abusing them

Senior Labour figures who resigned from Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet have urged members not to abandon the party and stay and fight for their beliefs.

Former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn told activists they should "rise above the most vile abuse" being thrown at them by other members of the party.

Mr Benn, whose sacking led to a wave of shadow cabinet resignations, said "now was the time for unity".

And former leader Ed Miliband has said Labour should not be "written off".

Speaking at the party conference in Liverpool, Mr Miliband urged MPs to get behind his successor.

"The government is there for the taking. There is a real opportunity for us. All those who write off this party are wrong. They've written us off before and we always come back."

Several MPs have indicated they might return to serve under Mr Corbyn after his re-election although some have made the reinstatement of shadow cabinet elections a precondition of coming back into the fold after this summer's mass walkout in protest at Mr Corbyn's leadership.

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Image caption Unite boss Len McCluskey said "a small rump of right-wing MPs" would likely continue to oppose Mr Corbyn

Amid calls for openly critical MPs to pledge their loyalty to Mr Corbyn following his re-election, Unite boss Len McCluskey urged MPs to let him lead "without having to pluck knives out of his back".

"Bar from a small rump of right-wing Lab MPs who will continue to try and rock the boat, I think the vast majority will come back," he said.

"We'll have a front bench that will effectively be of all of the talents, all sections of our party, and it will be a pretty impressive shadow cabinet."

'Better than that'

Image caption Hilary Benn's sacking as shadow foreign secretary by Jeremy Corbyn in June led to a mass of resignations

Mr Benn, who was dismissed by Mr Corbyn after telling him that he had lost confidence in him after the EU referendum, told a Labour First rally at the party conference in Liverpool that the party must now come together and "rise above" any abuse.

"We have won Labour parliamentary representation from Keir Hardie onwards and we do that by working together and those values have not changed and are alive and well in every single one of us in the party.

"We should celebrate the fact that so many new members have joined the party, every single one of us is a guardian of those values.

"But we have to treat each other with respect, and I know that is difficult when there is the most vile abuse from people who say they are members of the Labour party directed at other members of the Labour party."

Mr Benn, who is planning to stand as the new chair of the Commons Brexit committee, has said he will not be returning to the shadow cabinet but others have indicated they may consider doing so.

'Olive branch'

Image copyright AP
Image caption Vernon Coaker said he would consider parliamentary labour shadow cabinet elections

Former Northern Ireland spokesman Vernon Coaker said shadow cabinet elections were "an olive branch that [Mr Corbyn] could use to reach out to other parts of the party".

"Shadow cabinet elections would be a sign that he means what he says when he talks about wiping the slate clean and in terms of reaching out to all parts of the party while we come together to do what we all want to do which is win power for Labour."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The former leader said there was a "real opportunity" for Labour

Asked whether he would join Mr Corbyn's top team, if invited to do so, Mr Miliband said: "I decided a year ago to be a backbencher. That is what I anticipate still happening.

"Look this is a matter for Jeremy but I don't anticipate that changing."

Labour leaders have handpicked their top team since elections were scrapped in 2011 but many see their return as a prerequisite for soothing tensions in the party over Mr Corbyn's leadership and accommodating different views.

Labour's ruling body has held initial discussions about the issue although no decision is likely to be taken for several weeks amid calls from those close to Mr Corbyn for party members to have a say, not just MPs.

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Image caption Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is open to welcoming back MPs who resigned from the shadow cabinet

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a key ally of Mr Corbyn, said MPs who had quit the shadow cabinet would be welcome back because Labour was a "broad church" or could instead do "valuable work" from the backbenches.

He said he was "open for discussion" as to who was able to vote in any future elections and confirmed the status quo would remain while discussions took place.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Corbyn said the "vast majority" of MPs had nothing to fear from their constituents amid talk of possible deselections of dissenting MPs in the run-up to the 2020 general election.

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