Reuters / Toby Melville
- Labour frontbencher John Ashworth has been caught in leaked audio footage saying Labour's electoral prospects are "dire" and suggesting voters "can't stand" party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
- "I've been going around these national places, it's dire for Labour … it's dire … it's awful for them, and it's the combination of Corbyn and Brexit," he said.
- Ashworth said he was 'having a bit of banter' with his friend, who he confirmed had leaked the contents of a private phone call.
The shadow health secretary's offhand comments are damaging for Labour, which is hoping to deprive Boris Johnson of a majority in Thursday's election.
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One of Jeremy Corbyn's most trusted frontbenchers has been caught in a leaked recording saying Labour's electoral prospects are "dire" because voters "can't stand" party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Shadow health secretary John Ashworth confirmed the authenticity of the phone call, which he said had been recorded and leaked to the Guido Fawkes website by a friend who he named as Conservative activist Greig Baker.
He told Baker: "I've been going around these national places, it's dire for Labour … it's dire … it's awful for them, and it's the combination of Corbyn and Brexit ... outside of the city seats … it's abysmal out there."
"They can't stand Corbyn and they think Labour's blocked Brexit. I think middle-class graduates — Remain-y people – Labour's doing well among … but not in big enough numbers to deny the Tories a majority."
Ashworth subsequently said his criticism of Corbyn and his assessment of the party's electoral prospects was just "banter" between friends.
"Of course it makes me look like a right plonker, but it's not what I mean when I'm winding up a friend, trying to sort of, pull his leg a bit," he told BBC's Victoria Live.
Ashworth said he was "having a bit of banter" with his friend "because he was saying 'oh, the Tories are going to lose' and I was, like saying, 'no you're going to be fine', joshing as old friends do."
"And he's only gone and leaked it to a website - selectively leaked it - and I thought he was a friend, Greig Baker, but obviously he's not."
Ashworth 'just can't see' a Labour government happening
The health secretary's offhand comments are damaging for Labour, which is hoping to deprive Boris Johnson of a majority in Thursday's election.
They reflect a widespread fear within the party that Jeremy Corbyn has made them unelectable, especially in Leave-voting traditional Labour seats such as Bolsover, Dudley North, or Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Ashworth, who is regarded as a fairly loyal political ally of Corbyn, can be heard in the footage saying that he "just can't see" a Labour government happening because of Corbyn and the party's equivocation on Brexit.
"I just can't see it happening," he says. "It wouldn't surprise me – for sake of argument – we held Canterbury because of sort of middle-class, Guardian-reading people, but then the Tories take Bolsover off of Labour it wouldn't surprise me. The electoral map has been going topsy-turvey because of Brexit and Corbyn."
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Ashworth's remarks were "an honest and truly devastating assessment" of Mr Corbyn's leadership "by one of his most trusted election lieutenants."
He said: "If even Corbyn's closest political allies think he is unfit to be prime minister, why on earth should voters be expected to put their trust in him and them?"
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