John McDonnell has been described as “truly evil” by a Cabinet minister as pressure continued to mount on the shadow chancellor over remarks he made about Esther McVey, the new Work and Pensions Secretary.
Mr McDonnell described Ms McVey as a “stain of inhumanity” in 2015 when he also insisted that he had “nothing to apologise for” after he repeated an activist's call for the Tory MP to be "lynched" in 2014.
Ms McVey’s appointment to the Cabinet in Theresa May’s January reshuffle has prompted renewed scrutiny of the remarks and now Andrea Leadsom, the Commons Leader, has condemned them as “utterly disgusting”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to directly condemn Mr McDonnell for the comments.
It came as Brandon Lewis, the new chairman of the Conservative Party, challenged Mr Corbyn to tackle online abuse after announcing that Tory candidates will sign a pledge to behave responsibly.
Tweeting a link to an audio clip in which Mr McDonnell repeated the “lynching” call, Ms Leadsom said: “This is truly evil. Utterly disgusting. The laughter about launching a campaign against Esther McVey on her birthday, and then the guffaws about killing her. Seriously? Is this Jeremy Corbyn’s kinder, gentler politics? This has to stop.”
Ms McVey has faced a renewed vicious hate campaign since her appointment last Monday with the senior Tory MP even facing death threats.
Mr Corbyn was challenged about Mr McDonnell’s past comments on ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme.
Mr Corbyn replied: "I would rather stick to where I disagree with somebody on their policies.
"I fundamentally disagree with Esther McVey and her approach towards inequality and the poor and the worst off in our society, and I will stick to that."
Mr Lewis used an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to reveal that Tory candidates who breached a new responsible behaviour pledge would be suspended from the party as he called on Labour to "make the same statement".
He said: "We'll be drafting up a pledge. All our candidates will sign up to that pledge, to behave responsibly and show respect online during the elections.
"And I do expect, Jeremy Corbyn is on TV this morning I think, he should be coming out and standing up to this."
Asked about the Tories’ pledge, Mr Corbyn said: "It's basic in the Labour Party, you treat people with respect and treat each other with respect.
"We're quite clear. Public behaviour is about respect, is about listening to people, is about how you treat each other.
"Surely that should be a norm in public life."