Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of allowing a “culture of bullying” to take hold within Labour by his leadership rival.
Owen Smith MP – who is challenging Mr Corbyn for the top spot in the party – said “something had gone badly wrong” since Mr Corbyn took charge amid fresh claims of abuse being directed at critics of the leader by activists.
He was speaking as it was claimed that Mr Corbyn had threatened to telephone the father of Labour MP Conor McGinn in order to put pressure on him, after Mr McGinn criticised the veteran socialist’s helmsmanship of the party.
Mr McGinn is originally from Northern Ireland and his father Pat is a former Sinn Fein councillor.
Mr Corbyn insisted he is not a bully, and described Mr McGinn’s specific claim as “untrue”.
Amid this turmoil on Friday, Mr Smith warned the party could be “destroyed” and “consigned to history” unless it could unite.
Mr Smith told Sky News he had received death threats and the problem of abuse had not been there before Mr Corbyn’s leadership win.
He accepted he had “never been bullied by Jeremy” personally but “under his leadership, there has been a culture of bullying, I fear”.
He added: “Jeremy, of course, always says that he doesn’t condone it but somehow under his leadership - we can’t deny the facts that this wasn’t something that we saw in the Labour Party before Jeremy Corbyn became leader - and it’s now become commonplace in the Labour Party. So something has gone badly wrong under his watch.”
Addressing allegations of abuse, including from former leadership contender Angela Eagle, Mr Corbyn told Sky News: “I wish some of my colleagues would concentrate on political issues. I regret the language that’s been used, by all of them.
“I don’t do any abuse, I don’t do any bullying, I don’t allow it to be done anywhere to do with any of my campaign teams and I’m very surprised and very disappointed they should say that because politics has to be about bringing people in.
“I think we have done that spectacularly well - we now have the largest membership we’ve ever had. That’s good, that means more and more people are involved in politics.
“That’s good, it’s not a threat, it’s a good thing that people come together and want to debate and be active in politics in our society. Isn’t that good for democracy?”