A senior Labour frontbencher has launched legal action against a former parliamentary colleague, accusing her of “making up s***” about her in a television interview.
Caroline Flint claimed in a Sky News interview on Sunday that Emily Thornberry once said to a fellow MP that she was “glad my constituents aren’t as stupid as yours”.
Ms Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary and potential leadership contender, labelled the claim a “total and utter lie” and gave Ms Flint, the former MP for Don Valley, until the end of the day to withdraw the allegation.
Speaking on Monday, Ms Thornberry said: “I’ve contacted her and I’ve said to her, please withdraw, I’ll give you until the end of the day. And she hasn’t. So I’ve had to go to solicitors.
“People can slag me off, as long as it’s true, I can take it on the chin. But they can’t make up s*** about me – and if they do, I have to take it to the courts.”
Ms Thornberry added: “It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. I have better things to think about than people going on television and making up s***.”
“I have no idea what’s in her head.
“All I can tell you is that you can’t go on national television and make up s*** and not expect to be taken to the courts and that’s what I’m afraid I’m having to do.”
The row comes as the party digests its defeat in last week’s general election – Labour’s worst performance since the 1930s.
The election saw many seats in the North and the Midlands – the party’s traditional base of support – elect a Conservative MP for the first time in decades.
Jeremy Corbyn has said he will step down as leader in the wake of the result.
The contest to replace him will officially start on 7 January, with a successor in place by the end of March.
Asked if she would be running, Ms Thornberry said her focus was on Monday’s funeral of Frank Dobson, the party’s former health secretary, who died last month.
Another potential contender is Sir Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman.
He did not rule out a leadership bid, saying: “This is a moment for reflection. We’re talking to lots of colleagues, the competition doesn’t open until early next year.”
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has said she is “seriously thinking” about running to succeed Mr Corbyn, while shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, and Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips could also enter the contest.
Labour are also due to elect a new deputy leader following Tom Watson’s decision not to stand for re-election.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has told Sky News he is considering a bid for the deputy leadership role in tandem with Ms Long-Bailey’s bid for leader.
As well as the jostling to replace Mr Corbyn as leader, debate continues to rage in the party as to why it lost the election.
While much of the focus has been on Labour’s promise to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and then put it to a referendum, many senior figures in the party have criticised the media coverage Labour received.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has accused the BBC of “consciously” playing a role in Labour’s defeat, during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Presenter Justin Webb asked Mr McDonald about the party’s performance and whether Mr Corbyn played a part in that.
He said: “Don’t get me started on the media, Justin. I’m very worried about our public service broadcaster.”
“Are you saying that the BBC was in part responsible for Mr Corbyn’s loss?” Mr Webb asked.
Mr McDonald replied: “I am saying that they played a part. I’m really worried about the drift. You’ve seen the catalogue of criticisms that we’re making.
“We’ve accepted that the print media are rained against us, but my goodness me. I’m going to look at us.
“We’re the important part here.
“We got this wrong, but if the BBC are going to hold themselves out as somehow having conducted themselves in an impartial manner, I think they’ve really got to have a look in the mirror.
“We’ve got a lot to say about this.”
Asked if the BBC “consciously” played a part, the shadow minister replied: “Consciously, yes.”
MP Stephen Kinnock said there were three reasons for Labour’s defeat – “weak and incompetent leadership”; the party’s decision to back a second referendum, which “massively alienated voters in our Leave-voting heartlands”; and a manifesto “which was more like a Christmas wish list”.