Labour chairman hits back at criticism of coronavirus comments | Politics

The Labour chairman, Ian Lavery, has hit back at criticism after he was recorded saying the coronavirus outbreak gave the party a “great opportunity” to bring people together and get on the “front foot”.

His comments sparked outcry among rightwing commentators and Tory politicians who said saying they were disgusted and that he should apologise for allegedly seizing on the crisis to make political gains.

Lavery claimed reports about the recording, obtained by rightwing Westminster blog Guido Fawkes, were misleading and he had been trying to rally grassroots party members to help their local communities and explain that Labour’s established network of campaigners had a significant role to play.

Speaking to thousands of young members who joined an online chat forum on Friday night, the close ally of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was recorded saying: “By the way, when something like this happens, we’re going to see lots of our own dying as a consequence.

“But, you know apart from that, it’s going to give the fantastic battalion of Labour party members, community champions out there, a great opportunity of showing how Labour, and why Labour, is best when it gets on the front foot and best when it brings people together.”

Responding to the recording of Lavery, former Labour MP Ian Austin, who quit the party over the way it had handled antisemitism complaints, wrote online: “This is shameful.”

Lavery, who is MP for Wansbeck in the north-east of England, tweeted that he had been “extremely proud” of the Zoom call, which reached young party activists and that everyone had a role to play in trying to combat the spread of the virus.

He wrote: “We have a battalion of over 580,000 members and we need them to help in this crisis.”

In another Tweet he wrote: “Intentionally misleading reporting is really disappointing at a time like this. I’ve spoken about the opportunity for people to get out there and help their local communities and those in need. Nonsense to suggest otherwise. We all need to do our bit to get through this crisis.”

Young Labour, which organised the conference call, said more than 3,000 members had joined in, with Corbyn also taking part in the discussion. It is part of a series of mass calls being organised by the party to deal with Covid-19, including sessions on workers’ rights and mutual aid groups.

After Friday’s call, Young Labour tweeted: “The Labour party will continue to demand more from the government to support insecure workers and the most vulnerable, and Labour members in communities will be the centre of local support.”

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said he was disgusted by Lavery’s remarks, accusing him of “salivating” at the thought of tens of thousands of people dying.

A former Tory MEP, Steve Bannerman, who was also a member of Ukip, tweeted: “This disgusting and naked opportunism shows why we suddenly have so many social media attacks on Boris and government handling of Covid-19. Shameful. @UKLabour – would Attlee have done this??”

Leftwing commentator and author Aaron Bastani said Lavery was simply highlighting that the response to Covid-19 would “demonstrate the uses of central planning and need for grassroots activism”.

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