Jeremy Corbyn has admitted speaking to Diane Abbott before she gave a broadcast interview comparing her past views on the IRA to an old haircut, but refused to say whether he tried to persuade her to pull out.
According to the Times, the Labour leader and other senior party figures personally intervened in an attempt to stop Ms Abbott appearing on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show last Sunday, but she went ahead with the appearance independently.
The Tories have identified the shadow home secretary as a weakness in Labour’s team, repeatedly personally attacking her, particularly after she was unable to set out the cost of the party’s pledge to recruit thousands of extra police officers during an LBC radio interview earlier last month.
During the Marr interview last week, Ms Abbott tried to distance herself from claims she had supported the IRA in the 1980s, saying: “It was 34 years ago, I had a rather splendid afro at the time. I don’t have the same hairstyle, I don’t have the same views.”
Asked about reports that he had tried to keep his ally off the airwaves last weekend, Mr Corbyn told reporters in Lincoln: “I think you’re reading too much into the Times.
“Diane was on the Marr show, she spoke for our party and that is the story.”
He went on: “I had a chat with Diane about what she might say on the Marr show, yes.
“I have a chat with a lot of people in my shadow cabinet very often actually - I think that’s pretty normal in life, isn’t it?”
Asked if he told Ms Abbott not to appear, Mr Corbyn said: “Diane went on the show and she spoke up for our party.”