Claims that hard left activists are infiltrating Labour to try and oust MPs opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda have been dismissed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
The comments came after Mr Corbyn refused to intervene to prevent local activists targeting his internal party critics.
Pressed on accusations of hard left infiltration, Mr McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m sorry, that does not bear relation to reality.
“We now have 500,000 members. It’s a huge mass party now, and, of course, those members want to get involved in discussions about policy.
“Also, they will reflect at times their view about the performances of their local MP. And we have had a small number of incidences that we have seen, two or three, where parties have come together and they have expressed concerns about the performance of their MP. That’s happened right the way through the history of our party, but it’s nothing untoward.”
Mr McDonnell said the party had endured a “frustrating” few months as rows flared over anti-Semitism.
He said: “These last couple of months, of course, they have been frustrating.
“In fact, on the anti-Semitism issue, I’ve said publicly it’s been heart-rending as well.
“A lot of soul-searching had to take place. We have come out of that now.”
With the Corbyn-backing grassroots group Momentum pushing for a major shake-up of the way general election candidates are selected at this month’s party conference, the shadow chancellor said he supported the current situation.
“I prefer the existing system. I actually think that’s what will hold as well. People will have their view about mandatory reselection, I respect that view.
“But I think, for the bulk of people, the existing system, maybe slightly reformed, is the one we’ll hold to.”
Mr Corbyn told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday it was “not his role to interfere” in local “democratic accountability” after Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield briefly faced a motion brought by members of her Constituency Labour Party (CLP) after attending a rally on anti-Semitism.
The action against the MP, who took the Kent city seat at the 2017 election with a majority of just 187 – after 99 years as a Tory stronghold – was later dismissed following an outcry from fellow MPs.
The action followed no-confidence votes against Labour Friends of Israel chairwoman Joan Ryan, a former minister under Tony Blair, Luton South MP Gavin Shuker and Nottingham East MP Chris Leslie.
Those votes prompted MP Chuka Umunna to urge Mr Corbyn to “call off the dogs” to stop centre-left MPs being driven out of the party.
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said he had told the PLP that “it is not his place to be involved in the democratic practices of different parts of the Labour Party”.
He added: “He was making the point that everybody is subject to democratic accountability. It’s not his role to interfere with that.
“But obviously these things have to be conducted properly and thoroughly and without abuse and Jeremy reiterated… that our politics is conducted with respect and without abuse of any kind.”