Former minister quits Labour with furious blast at Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit and leadership ‘cult’

Posted On: 
14th May 2019

A former Labour MP has accused Jeremy Corbyn of “destroying” his party and letting down young people over Brexit as she dramatically resigned her membership.

Bridget Prentice during her time as a justice minister in the Labour years.
Credit: 
PA Images

Bridget Prentice – who represented Lewisham East for almost two decades and served as a whip and a justice minister under Tony Blair – said the Labour leader had turned the opposition into a “cult” in an excoriating letter to his chief of staff Karie Murphy.

But a party source pushed back hard at the letter, saying Ms Prentice was "aggrieved" at not being renominated as Labour's representative to the Electoral Commission, a post she held until 2018.

EXCL Labour MP tells Jeremy Corbyn to his face he must quit as party leader

Jeremy Corbyn under fire from Labour MPs over party's European election campaign

Jeremy Corbyn unveils plan to more than double minimum wage for under-18s

In her lengthy tirade against the leadership, Ms Prentice said Labour “no longer represents the values, aspirations or vision that led me to join it" in 1975.

And she accused Mr Corbyn of failing to listen to the party’s members on the EU while “pandering to the baser views of racists” by backing an end to free movement.

“It’s clear to any objective observer that Jeremy has no wish to remain in Europe; that in his limited thinking, Europe is 'a bad thing', apparently completely ignorant of the benefits it has brought to working people in this country to say nothing of the internationalist outlook any half-decent socialist ought to express,” she said.

The former frontbencher – who was MP for Lewisham East from 1992 until 2010 - also took aim at the party’s response to the recent local elections, which Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said had delivered a message from voters to “sort it” on Brexit.

"The recent comments about the local elections telling the major parties to deliver Brexit would be laughable if it were not so palpably wrong and pathetic,” Ms Prentice said.

"The damage to this country and most importantly to the poorest, the most vulnerable, the dispossessed, the underclass - all those that the Labour Party was born to protect - will be devastating.

"That Jeremy and those of you around him either cannot see that, or feel justified in disregarding it because of a narrow ideological pursuit, flies in the face of the moral right to lead a party which wants to transform the lives of those most in need."

Elsewhere in the four-page resignation letter, Ms Prentice accused Mr Corbyn of turning Labour – which has seen a surge in members under his leadership – into a “cult” built around his personality.

"Never in my life in the Party has a leader not been criticised, questioned, asked to justify a position - and rightly so,” she claimed.

"But that's not allowed under the Corbyn Cult. Anyone questioning the leadership's position is vilified; complaints sent in to the disciplinary panel like something out of a North Korean rulebook that disloyalty to the leader is a criminal offence."

'PROUD BLAIRITE'

Ms Prentice, who described herself as a “Blairite and proudly so”, also argued that any praise for party leaders from the New Labour era saw members “condemned as a Red Tory”.

And she blasted the party’s handling of anti-semitism in its ranks, saying it was “shameful” that Luciana Berger, who quit Labour earlier this year to join the new Independent Group, had been “bullied out of the party by racists and thugs”.

Ms Prentice added: “It is easy to say Jeremy is not racist. But there is the sin of omission. By not standing up to the bullies and the anti-semites, by not standing shoulder to shoulder with comrades who were being vilified and trolled through social media, whose lives were threatened and families under stress, Jeremy showed no leadership.”

While the ex-MP heaped praise on the “good people” still campaigning for Labour she said the party had been “destroyed” on Mr Corbyn’s watch, adding: “This is no longer the Labour Party. You should change its name.”

Labour MP Janet Daby, who now represents the Lewisham East constituency, promised to raise the concerns with the leadership.

Labour MP Janet Daby, who now represents the Lewisham East constituency, promised to raise

But a Labour source hit back, saying: "In reality, Bridget Prentice is aggrieved that she was not renominated as Labour's rep to the Electoral Commission, as she has made clear in private, while not raising any of the issues mentioned in her letter."

A party spokesperson meanwhile said it was "disappointing" she had quit - but branded the claims in her letter "plainly untrue".

They said: “Labour’s bold and popular policies under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership have changed the political conversation in this country and exposed the devastation caused by the Tories’ austerity agenda.

“Labour achieved the biggest increase in the share of the vote since 1945 in the 2017 General Election and we are now one of the biggest political parties in Europe with an active and diverse membership.

“The Labour Party is absolutely committed to challenging and campaigning against antisemitism in all its forms and wherever it occurs.”

'BIGGER ISSUE THAN BREXIT'

The angry letter comes after Labour MPs confronted Mr Corbyn over the party’s stance on Brexit going into the European elections later this month.

Some MPs want the leadership to push harder for a second EU referendum, whle other backbenchers have claimed that Labour HQ has prevented them from putting out their own campaign materials.

In the final contribution to Monday night’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, Ilford North MP Wes Streeting told the leader: "What is being heard on the doorstep across the country and what people are saying in the tea room, but won’t say to your face, is that you are a bigger issue for us than Brexit.

“If you’re prepared to sacrifice our place in Europe because you think it will deliver a Labour government, why won’t you make way for a leader who can win a general election?"

But Mr Corbyn said he understood the "frustration" of his MPs and insisted the party's anti-austerity message would bear fruit when the country goes to the polls on 23 May.

Labour has been approached for comment.