HILARY BENN has insisted there will be no split in the Labour Party whatever the result of the challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The Leeds Central MP gave his backing to Angela Eagle’s leadership challenge as Owen Smith formally launched his campaign today.
The prospect of Labour members re-electing Mr Corbyn when the vast majority of its MPs have called for change has led to growing talk of a split.
But Mr Benn, whose sacking from his shadow foreign secretary post by Mr Corbyn last month marked the start of a revolt against his leadership, insisted a Labour split was not on the cards.
He said: “Let’s be very clear about this, there’s been some idle talk in some newspapers.
“I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for 45 years, I intend to die in the Labour Party but not for many years yet and we are passionate about the values and beliefs of our party and we are staying.
“We are not going anywhere and in the end eventually this problem will be sorted out.”
Labour’s general secretary last week suspended routine constituency and branch meetings until after the leadership election amid reports of intimidation and threatening behaviour.
Mr Benn told Sky News: “The Labour Party is in a pretty unhappy state.
“It’s really very difficult and it’s distressing because for all of us who have devoted our lives to the Labour Party and been members a long time the sort of abuse that is being directed at ordinary Labour Party members, whatever the idea was behind a kinder gentler politics it is not what we have seen.
“I’m sorry some of those, and it is a minority, but some of those who are supporting Jeremy seem to think it is acceptable to abuse parliamentary colleagues, particularly women members of the PLP and others if you don’t support Jeremy you get all sorts of abuses.
“We cannot be a party like that but not only do we have to call it out we need a new leaders so we can heal what is clearly a very divided party at the moment.”
The promise not to split the party was echoed by Owen Smith as he formally launched his leadership campaign in his Pontypridd constituency.
“It cannot happen, it will not happen,” he said.
“If I’ve got anything to do with it, never on my watch will this party split.
“It won’t split because we cannot afford it to split and, more important than that, working people in this country cannot afford the Labour Party to split.”
In an echo of the landmark moment when Tony Blair convinced Labour to ditch its commitment to common ownership in 1995, Mr Smith said he too wanted to rewrite clause IV of the party’s constitution to include a commitment to tackling inequality.
He said: “Every Labour policy has to be tested against that benchmark - is it going to reduce inequalities in wealth, in power, in outcomes and opportunities, or is it not?
“And if it is not going to reduce those inequalities, then we in the Labour Party should not do it.
Mr Smith also backed giving MPs the power of veto over when the country goes to war.
He told Mr Corbyn that although he supported his anti-austerity “slogan”, Labour are “not on the pitch” in British political debate.
He insisted “words are not enough” as he pledged to create a £200 billion “British New Deal” infrastructure investment plan.
Mr Smith also said he would instantly reinstate the Department for Energy and Climate Change which new Prime Minister Theresa May folded into the Business department.
He said it was time for Labour to “recommit ourselves to a proper, ethical foreign policy” followoing the Chilcot Report.