Labour former cabinet minister David Blunkett has denounced the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as a “catastrophe” which has set the party on course for annihilation at the polls.
The ex-home secretary said the decisive 62 per cent victory for the veteran left-winger, who saw off a challenge from Owen Smith on Saturday, was an “utter disaster” and urged moderates to fight to take the party back.
But close Corbyn ally John McDonnell said Lord Blunkett, who served as MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough for 23 years, was “completely out of touch” and called on him to respond to the leader’s call for unity.
The shadow chancellor was due to use a keynote speech to Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool to announce plans to form an “interventionist government” borrowing £100bn at low rates to support British industry.
Mr McDonnell told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain: “David has been fairly critical of Jeremy all along, but I’m sure he will calm down.
“There is a real spirit here of people getting together and uniting and thinking that we may face a general election soon so we have to get our act together to form not just a good opposition but to get ready to go into government.”
Mr McDonnell was speaking after the opening day of the conference saw moderates pack rallies of the Labour First and Progress movements to hear a string of centrist MPs warn that the party could die unless it changes course.
And Lord Blunkett told the Daily Mail: “For the Labour Party I love, the party I have devoted more than 50 years of my life to serving, the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader is a catastrophe.
“I’m in despair at this calamitous situation. I honestly cannot see how we’re going to get out of it.”
Denouncing Mr Corbyn’s supporters as Marxists who were “disconnected from the broad electorate”, Lord Blunkett said: “The Labour Party under Corbyn is not electable. I am at a loss to understand what the 313,000 members who voted for him believe they can really achieve in the next three years, and what the eventual outcome will be, other than annihilation at a general election in 2020.”
But he cautioned Corbyn critics not to split the party, warning that setting up “an alternative movement to seize the middle ground” would be “doomed to failure”.
Conference was due to hear from shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry that Labour will guarantee to make up any shortfalls in funding for deprived regions and communities resulting from Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has promised to continue the support until 2020, but Ms Thornberry was telling conference that this does not go far enough. She will promise a fully-protected fund to substitute for the lost EU money stretching further into the future.
Meanwhile, the shadow chancellor was using his keynote speech to herald a post-Brexit “manufacturing renaissance” backed by a comprehensive industrial strategy under Labour.
And wrangling continued in Liverpool over proposals to appoint Scottish and Welsh representatives to the party’s ruling National Executive Committee.
It is understood that Mr Corbyn is resisting moves to allow the party’s leaders in Scotland and Wales to appoint their nominees and pushing instead for them to be chosen by members.
Asked whether Mr Corbyn’s internal critics would face “consequences” now he has been reaffirmed in his position, Mr McDonnell told BBC1’s Breakfast: “Of course not. In the leadership campaign, the policy debate we had was, I thought, really effective. It demonstrated unity of purpose, there were barely any disagreements over policy. There were a few harsh words said, but what is said on tour remains on tour.
“Jeremy has been elected by an overwhelming mandate, an increased mandate. He is trying to unite the party now, and I think the atmosphere of conference amongst delegates and many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party now is that we just want to get on with the job.”
The conference began with an opinion poll showing the party trailing the Conservatives by 15 points on 26% - Labour’s worst rating since 2009.
But Mr McDonnell blamed the divisive leadership election, insisting that Labour had been winning by-elections and leading in the polls before the challenge to Mr Corbyn.
“We think if we can unite now, start campaigning, we can be an effective opposition and be ready for when the general election comes - and I think it might be sooner rather than later,” he said.