Cor­byn ally sorry for tape re­marks

Manchester Evening News - - NATIONAL -

A SHADOW cabi­net min­is­ter has apol­o­gised to party mem­bers af­ter be­ing caught on tape giv­ing a damn­ing assess­ment of Jeremy Cor­byn, as the fi­nal 48 hours of the elec­tion cam­paign be­came heated.

Jonathan Ash­worth said the sit­u­a­tion fac­ing Labour was “abysmal” be­cause vot­ers “can’t stand Cor­byn” and think the party has “blocked Brexit” – but later sought to dis­miss his re­marks as “ban­ter”.

It came as Boris John­son was ac­cused by the fa­ther of London Bridge vic­tim Jack Mer­ritt of see­ing last month’s ter­ror­ist at­tack as an “op­por­tu­nity” to score po­lit­i­cal points in­stead of view­ing it as a tragedy.

Dave Mer­ritt told Sky that he thought it was “crass and in­sen­si­tive” that his son’s pho­to­graph was used along­side head­lines about chang­ing sen­tenc­ing and an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by the Prime Min­is­ter.

In a tu­mul­tuous day for both cam­paigns, the shadow health sec­re­tary was forced to de­fend an au­dio record­ing – leaked to the Guido Fawkes web­site – of a con­ver­sa­tion in which he lam­basted Mr Cor­byn.

The shadow health sec­re­tary, who is seen as a key ally of the Labour leader, also claimed that the Civil Ser­vice machine would “pretty quickly move to safe­guard se­cu­rity” if Mr Cor­byn en­tered Num­ber 10.

Mr Ash­worth later con­ceded that the leak made him “look like a right plonker”, but said he made the re­marks while “jok­ing around” with Tory friend Greig Baker.

“We’re hav­ing ban­ter with each other we’re jok­ing around,” he told the BBC’s Vic­to­ria Der­byshire show min­utes af­ter the record­ing was pub­lished. “I don’t mean it be­cause I’m jok­ing around with my mate be­cause he’s a Tory ... If you leak it to Guido Fawkes of course it makes me look like a right plonker, but it’s not what I mean when I’m wind­ing up a friend – I’m try­ing to sort of pull his leg a bit.”

He apol­o­gised to Labour Party mem­bers, and sug­gested he was try­ing to “psych” his friend out “like foot­ball man­agers do”.

“Ob­vi­ously, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, I’ve been too clever by half and I look like an id­iot as a re­sult of do­ing it,” he told BBC Two’s Pol­i­tics Live.

Tory Party chair­man James Clev­erly said the re­marks were an “hon­est and truly dev­as­tat­ing assess­ment” of Mr Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship “by one of his most trusted elec­tion lieu­tenants”.

It fol­lowed crit­i­cism over Mr John­son’s ap­par­ent lack of em­pa­thy for a four-yearold boy left sleep­ing on a hos­pi­tal floor be­cause there was no bed avail­able.

The row blew up over the treat­ment of Jack Wil­li­ment-Barr at Leeds Gen­eral In­fir­mary. A pho­to­graph cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia showed the boy ly­ing on a pile of coats to keep warm while he waited for a bed for treat­ment for sus­pected pneu­mo­nia.

Ques­tioned by ITV News, Mr John­son ini­tially re­fused to look at the photo on a re­porter’s phone – before tak­ing the hand­set and putting it in his pocket.

Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock was dis­patched to the hos­pi­tal in an at­tempt to defuse the grow­ing me­dia firestorm.

Jonathan Ash­worth and Jeremy Cor­byn dur­ing a visit to Craw­ley Hos­pi­tal in Oc­to­ber

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