Tory MPs have suffered “widespread abuse” after Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, referred to one as “scum” in a heated parliamentary debate, the party’s co-chairman has said.
More than 100 Tory MPs have signed an open letter promoted by Amanda Milling MP urging the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to take action against all party members who perpetrate “unacceptable abuse online and offline”.
But public figures and opposition MPs have accused the Conservatives of seeking to deflect attention from the backlash it is receiving over its decision to vote against extending free school meals to deprived children over the 2021 school holidays.
The letter, signed by 112 MPs, says Rayner’s language led to the phrase “Tory scum” trending on Twitter, abusive phone calls and MPs’ offices being targeted.
It added: “This has not only affected MPs but also their hard-working staff and supportive families, the vast majority of whom are not public figures.”
Labour has been contacted for comment.
Rayner’s heated exchange took place during a debate on economic lockdown measures on Wednesday. The Conservative MP Chris Clarkson broke off from a speech attacking what he characterised as Labour’s “hindsight-heavy” approach and confronted Rayner over whether she had used the slur against him.
As a row erupted, the deputy Speaker, Eleanor Laing, intervened by shouting “order” and rebuked Rayner, telling her: “From the frontbench we will not have remarks like that, not under any circumstances, no matter how heartfelt it might be, not at all.”
As the debacle threatened to overshadow Labour’s attempt to seize the initiative on a day of opposition debates about economic support in lockdown areas and free school meal provision, Rayner issued an apology within hours.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Rayner said: “I apologise for the language that I used in a heated debate in parliament earlier.”
On Saturday the Tory MPs’ letter had been shared thousands of times on Twitter, with many users suggesting the abuse was more likely to stem from the decision to overwhelmingly oppose extending free school meals in a Commons vote.
“You don’t think voting against feeding hungry children during the school holidays had a little something something to do with the abuse?” tweeted the former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman OBE. “A valiant attempt to shift the blame while simultaneously detracting from the main issue, ie children going to bed hungry night after night.”
Meanwhile, the musician Nitin Sawhney accused the party of double standards, pointing to Boris Johnson’s recorded history of using offensive terms towards black people and Muslims in columns he has written previously.