Labour’s deputy leader has apologised for branding a Conservative MP ‘scum’ during a heated debate in the Commons on the Covid-19 crisis today, but stopped short of retracting the smear.
Tory backbencher Chris Clarkson demanded an apology from Angela Rayner in a public letter after he suggested that the Labour frontbench was viewing the pandemic as a ‘good crisis’ to be exploited.
However, the hard-Left Corbynite then heckled Mr Clarkson, who asked: ‘Excuse me, did the honourable lady just call me scum?’
The exchange prompted an intervention from a furious Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing who said she would not accept such comments in the chamber ‘under any circumstances’.
Ms Rayner has now apologised for branding Mr Clarkson ‘scum’ but stopped short of a retraction in a terse response to a request to comment.
Outraged Tory MPs are calling on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to reprimand his deputy over the ill-judge remark.
Angela Rayner (left) was today accused of calling Tory MP Chris Clarkson (right) ‘scum’ during a House of Commons debate on coronavirus
Mr Clarkson has now joined demands from other outraged Tories for Ms Rayner to apologise as they called on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to reprimand her over the remark
In a public letter, the Tory MP said: ‘During my contribution highlighting the importance of the public health measures being introduced in the North of England, I drew the attention of the House to comments you made towards me, namely referring to me as ‘scum’.
‘As elected representatives I believe we have a duty to lead by example. I am also aware that this is not the first time you have used the phrase ‘scum’ to describe members of this Government and of my Party.
‘While I believe strongly in the privilege of freedom of speech in the Chamber, it must be tempered with responsibility.
‘During my contribution, I expressed my disappointment that your Party has seemingly put aside its promises of ‘constructive opposition’, in favour of the same divisive politics the British public voted to put aside.
‘In the spirit of those promises of constructive opposition and in the interest of providing a united front in the battle against Coronavirus, I respectfully ask that you retract and apologise for your comments.’
Responding to a request to comment, Ms Rayner said: ‘I apologise for the language that I used in a heated debate in Parliament earlier.’
Her apology was short, and she stopped short of retracting the smear.
The clash between Ms Rayner and Mr Clarkson happened during an opposition day debate in the Commons this afternoon as MPs debated funding for areas facing additional coronavirus restrictions.
Labour is calling on the Government to publish ‘clear and fair national criteria for financial support for jobs and businesses’ in areas moved into Tier Three.
Mr Clarkson told Labour to ‘park the opportunism’ as he cited comments made by shadow education secretary Kate Green who previously said Covid-19 was a ‘good crisis’ for the party.
He said: ‘I know (Kate Green) thinks this is a good crisis that the Labour Party should exploit, and I know she speaks for a lot of her frontbench colleagues when she says that – you just need to see it in the support, U-turn, oppose approach that has characterised their hindsight-heavy behaviour.’
Following a heckle from Ms Rayner, Mr Clarkson replied: ‘Excuse me, did the honourable lady just call me scum?’
Dame Eleanor immediately interrupted proceedings and blasted: ‘Order, order, order. From the front bench we do not have remarks like that.
‘Not under any circumstances, no matter how heartfelt it might be. Not at all.’
Making a point of order in response to the accusation, Ms Rayner said: ‘I think one of the things I’d ask for your guidance on is (Mr Clarkson) saying things about the front bench which is inaccurate in their speech and I’d ask them to withdraw it.’
Dame Eleanor replied: ‘It is not for the chair to decide what is accurate or inaccurate, I cannot make such a judgment.
‘But of course, I will ask (Mr Clarkson) to be reasonable in what he says and to be careful of his remarks.
‘And I’m sure that if (Mr Clarkson) feels that he has said anything that is offensive to (Ms Rayner) then he will undoubtedly withdraw and apologise immediately.’
Resuming his speech, Mr Clarkson said: ‘Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for your guidance.
‘To clarify, I asked (Ms Rayner) if she called me that (scum) – that is what I heard.’
Mr Clarkson proceeded with his speech without withdrawing his earlier comments.
A furious Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing intervened and said she would not allow such remarks ‘under any circumstances’
Ms Rayner rose to political prominence after becoming shadow education secretary under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2016. She became one of Mr Corbyn’s most vocal defenders
Amanda Milling, the chairman of the Conservative Party, called for Sir Keir to ‘take action’ against Ms Rayner.
Tweeting a video of the exchange, she said: ‘This is totally unacceptable from Angela Rayner. At 29 seconds you can clearly hear her call Chris Clarkson ‘scum’.
‘As elected representatives we have a duty to lead by example. Will she apologise and if not will Keir Starmer take action?’
Fellow Tory MP Dehenna Davison echoed a similar sentiment as she said: ‘Absolutely disgraceful behaviour from the Labour front bench.
‘Rayner needs to apologise immediately. This is not what politics is about.’
Ms Rayner was challenged in the Commons over the incident as Conservative MP Sara Britcliffe said: ‘The attitude that I’ve just seen in this chamber is what turned many of my residents against the Labour Party. It’s unacceptable.’
Opening the debate, Ms Rayner had earlier called the Government’s financial support package for Greater Manchester as it moves into Tier Three ‘an insult’ and also revealed that her aunt had died last week from Covid-19 at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
Labour’s motion calling for a ‘fair national criteria’ to be put in place to support areas facing additional restrictions was ultimately defeated by 261 votes to 340, a majority of 79.
Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Westminster housemate of Ms Rayner, criticised the Government’s strategy, telling MPs: ‘To most this doesn’t appear to be an exercise in infection control.
‘It appears to be an exercise in keeping the North and other Tier Three areas away from the rest of the country to engage in our own version of the Hunger Games – where only the fittest and wealthiest will survive.’
Labour MP Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) also told the debate: ‘Not since the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 has the state displayed such coercive power over the people of Greater Manchester.’
Tory William Wragg also urged MPs ‘not to underestimate the anger felt by the public’ over the stricter restrictions.
He said: ‘I do not support Labour’s suggestion of a national lockdown which makes little sense at all.
‘However, what concerns me most is the coming hardship, the rising unemployment and some people’s despair.
‘Indeed, I cannot help but reflect that the medicine risks being worse than the disease.’
Ms Rayner was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party in April this year after rising to prominence in Westminster as shadow education secretary in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.
The MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, first elected to Parliament in 2015, has previously drawn heavily on her experience as a one-time struggling teenage mother.
The mother-of-three was 16 when she had her first son, Ryan, and has told how becoming pregnant so young ‘saved’ her.
She proudly welcomed her own granddaughter at the age of just 37 with a tweet jokingly referring to herself as ‘Grangela’.