Mandarins discussed the Labour leader’s future at an event this month as rumours mount that he is ‘losing his memory’. Mr Corbyn is seen outside his home on April 17
Jeremy Corbyn launched an astonishing attack on the Civil Service last night over claims he has suffered a mini-stroke and is physically unfit to be Labour leader.
Mr Corbyn demanded an investigation into Whitehall leaks which described him as ‘frail’ and ‘losing his memory’, accusing the mandarins of being anti-democratic and politically motivated.
Rumours have been swirling around Westminster for several months about Mr Corbyn’s health, including the claim that the 70-year-old had a mini-stroke three months ago – something which Labour insisted yesterday was ‘categorically untrue’.
The extraordinary row came as Mr Corbyn’s veteran enforcer, John McDonnell, was accused of plotting to orchestrate a coup this autumn to replace his leader with either Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer or Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
A consensus is building among the party’s most senior figures that Mr Corbyn will have to step aside if there is a snap General Election in the coming months rather than face a potentially revitalised Tory party under Boris Johnson.
Mr Corbyn’s response came as photos of him emerged working out at a park gym
Allies of Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson told The Mail on Sunday that they believed Mr McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, has told both Mr Starmer and Ms Thornberry that he would back either of them for leader as long as they kept him in his current job. They also say he promised to back the defeated candidate as deputy leader in place of Mr Watson.
Mr Corbyn is understood to prefer Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey as his ultimate replacement.
Tensions have escalated between Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell recently, with the leader understood to have excluded his Shadow Chancellor from meetings about Brexit. A gulf has opened up between the men over the key issue, with Mr McDonnell trying to persuade Mr Corbyn to back a second referendum and back Remain.
Reports yesterday also painted a damning picture of the ‘aggressive’ advisers around Mr Corbyn exploiting his ‘frailty’ to control him.
Chief of staff Karie Murphy, director of strategy Seumas Milne, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey and adviser Andrew Murray, a former Communist, collectively known as the ‘4Ms’, were accused of fostering a ‘culture of bullying and intimidation’.
Mr Corbyn mounted a furious counter-attack after The Times reported that senior civil servants thought he might be forced to stand down because he is not up to the job ‘physically or mentally’.
The extraordinary row came as rumours emerged of an attempted coup by either Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer or Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (pictured, left, with Mr Corbyn, earlier this month)
One senior civil servant went as far as to say Mr Corbyn, 70, is not firing ‘on all cylinders’. He is seen at the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast on April 24
In an angry statement, Mr Corbyn said that it ‘should be very concerning to all of us’ that civil servants ‘should be briefing a newspaper against an elected politician, against a prospective government’.
He added: ‘The Civil Service has to be independent; has to be non-political and has to be non-judgmental of the politicians they have a duty to serve… That is the way British democracy must work.
‘There must be an investigation into which senior civil servants are spreading fictitious information to the press and in the process compromising the integrity of the Civil Service’.
Mr Corbyn’s team moved swiftly to counter the civil servants’ claims, saying that he ‘leads an active life, running and cycling regularly, and is in good health’. They described the reports as ‘scurrilous’ and ‘a transparent attempt to undermine Labour’s efforts to redistribute wealth and power from the few to the many’.
Fears that Mr Corbyn might have suffered a mini-stroke started circulating in the spring. At the time, a television producer told The Mail on Sunday that while filming Mr Corbyn at his Commons desk the Labour leader had failed to respond to questions and had seemed ‘completely out of it’.
He went to hospital later that same week, but the party said that it was for a ‘routine operation’.
It was also claimed that Mr Corbyn would frequently be driven back to his Islington home from his Commons office in order for him to have ‘afternoon naps’ – something which Labour also denied.
The first rumours over Mr Corbyn’s health started shortly after he became party leader in September 2015, with one source saying that within weeks of taking the role he had ‘passed out’ in his office due to stress. Allies rejected the claims as ‘categorically untrue’, insisting that he was the victim of a ‘smear’ by his enemies in the party.
In March 2016, this newspaper revealed that Mr Corbyn had broken off from a Labour rally in Newcastle to go to the local accident and emergency department.
Kier Starmer has also been put forward as a potential replacement for the Labour leader
His office insisted he had only gone to hospital because he had previously pulled a muscle in his leg after going for a jog.
Their insistence that Mr Corbyn is enjoying good health has not prevented his colleagues from voicing concerns about his ability to cope with the enormous strains of office should he ever become Prime Minister. Those anxieties seemed to come to a head in April when this newspaper was told Mr Corbyn was specifically lining up Ms Long-Bailey to replace him amid fears his health would force him to stand down before he could get to No 10.
It also emerged Mr Corbyn was being treated at Moorfields Eye Hospital for ‘a muscle weakness in his right eye which has become apparent in recent months’.
One Labour insider told The Mail on Sunday yesterday: ‘I think there was something to those pass-out rumours from 2015. And that eye problem has been quite difficult for him. I don’t think it’s a normal condition down to ageing.’
He also insisted that it was the case that Mr Corbyn often did not work a full week, saying: ‘He doesn’t do a full week – that’s a fact. He’ll disappear and sometimes he won’t answer the phone. We think he might be at his allotment but this happens every other week’.
The colleague added that if Mr Corbyn ‘does some work at the weekend, he has Monday or part of Monday off’.
According to The Times report, civil servants believed that Mr Corbyn was being ‘propped up’ by his advisers and lacked a grasp of policy and foreign affairs.
One anonymous official said: ‘There is a real worry that the Labour leader isn’t up to the job physically or mentally but is being propped up by those around him. There’s growing concern that he’s too frail and is losing his memory. He’s not in charge of his own party.’
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell on the panel on stage before delivering his keynote speech at the 2015 Labour Party Conference in Brighton
Another said: ‘Brexit and the Tory leadership contest have meant the Labour Party hasn’t been scrutinised as much as it should have been. At least Theresa May could understand her briefs, even if she couldn’t control her party.’
The newspaper also quoted a Labour source as saying: ‘Jeremy is just a puppet, he can barely hold his head up. He is being manipulated and controlled’, with Ms Murphy described as a ‘bully’ and a ‘shouter and a screamer’ who would jab people in the chest when she was angry.
Tensions have increased over the party’s anti-Semitism crisis, with Derby North MP Chris Williamson, one of Mr Corbyn’s prominent political supporters, suspended for a second time on Friday for saying that the party was too apologetic over the issue – two days after his reappointment had prompted a mass revolt by MPs, peers and staff.
Labour MP Chris Williamson has been suspended for a second time over anti-Semitism
Labour MPs are highly sceptical about claims from ‘party sources’ that Mr Corbyn is preparing for power with 7km runs. One Shadow Cabinet minister was quoted yesterday as saying that Mr Corbyn was being ‘run ragged’ by Ms Murphy. They said: ‘He looks old and exhausted. He’s 70 years of age, she is putting him through a programme that would be exhausting for a 40-year-old person. They think he’s at his best when he’s on the stage speaking to rallies but the crowds are getting smaller and smaller.’
Another party insider likened him to Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader who had a series of strokes in office, but whose true state of health was kept secret from the public.
Allies of Mr Watson have become convinced in recent weeks that Mr McDonnell is ‘on manoeuvres’ to ensure that one of his favoured candidates becomes leader if Mr Corbyn resigns due to ill health or is ousted in advance of a snap General Election.
Although Mr Starmer is to the Right of Mr McDonnell politically, the Watson allies say that the two men have ‘bonded’ over their support for a second referendum. Left-wing Ms Thornberry has long regarded herself, rather than Ms Long-Bailey, as the natural heir to Mr Corbyn.
Mr McDonnell yesterday dismissed claims that he was involve in a coup against Mr Corbyn as ‘rubbish’ and that reports of the leader’s ill-health should be treated ‘with contempt’.
He said: ‘Jeremy Corbyn is the age of many other world leaders. He’s incredibly fit. He’ll give 20 or 30 years on most other people. He runs every day, he cycles and he’s one of those leaders we need now. We need a wise, experienced leader who’ll bring the country together again, build consensus. Sometimes wisdom does come with experience and that’s what Jeremy Corbyn has.
‘Contrast that with Boris Johnson, someone you can’t believe a word he says. He is, I believe, unstable in all different aspects of his life.’
Mr Corbyn also received the unlikely backing from former Ukip MP Douglas Carswell. He tweeted: ‘I’d rather have my country run by democratically elected Jeremy Corbyn than the smug, self-regarding, incompetent Whitehall officials that briefed this to The Times. Get these vile Sir Humphrys out!’
Jeremy Corbyn (right) and Labour Party Executive Director of Strategy and Communications Seamus Milne
However former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine warned Mr Corbyn’s age could rule him out of contention for No 10. The 86-year-old Tory peer told LBC radio: ‘I think you should contribute as best you feel able, as you wish, and in any capacity that people will entrust to you.
‘But we’re talking about whether at the age of 70 you can become Prime Minister. The job above all else needs stability, it needs people who can get things through and that takes time. My guess is at 70 and anything like it, you are going to be feeling the strain in a way that rules out someone of that age.’
A Labour Party spokesman dismissed claims that Mr Corbyn was being manipulated, saying: ‘The idea Jeremy doesn’t make his own decisions is laughable, demonstrably false and relies on the recycled trope of ‘good king but bad advisers’. He takes his own decisions and has repeatedly and publicly backed a referendum on any deal.’