Labour is facing an “abysmal” defeat in this week’s UK general election, according to explosive comments by the party’s own health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth that were revealed in an undercover recording released on Tuesday.
In the recording — first obtained by the Guido Fawkes website — Mr Ashworth is heard saying that a Labour victory this week “is not going to happen”. He adds that the electoral map was “topsy-turvy” because of Brexit and because of the public’s dislike — outside London — of Jeremy Corbyn.
“I’ve been going round 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,” Mr Ashworth said. “I think middle-class graduates — Remain people — Labour’s doing well among . . . but not in big enough numbers to deny the Tories a majority.”
In the recording Mr Ashworth also suggests Mr Corbyn could be a potential risk to national security.
Asked about that issue, he replied: “I don’t know, on the security stuff; I worked in No 10, I think the machine will pretty quickly move to safeguard security (I mean the civil service machine).”
With Britain set to go to the polls in two days, the recording is an embarrassment for Labour’s leadership given Mr Ashworth has been a central figure in attacking the Tories over their management of the National Health Service.
Mr Ashworth had sought to hammer home a core part of Labour’s general election pitch — that the future of the NHS is at stake in this week’s poll — by publishing projections, based on official data, suggesting waiting lists for treatment will reach 5.8m by the end of 2024, up from 4.4m now.
Quoting the assessment of the Health Foundation, a charity, that the sums the Tories have promised to the NHS are “below the amount needed to maintain current standards of care”, Mr Ashworth said: “If the Tories win on Thursday it will mean five more years of ballooning waiting lists, more patients languishing on trolleys in hospital corridors, and people with cancer enduring even longer waits for vital treatment.”
By lunchtime on Tuesday prime minister Boris Johnson was using the leaked conversation to attack Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“Jonathan Ashworth is saying what hundreds of Labour candidates and millions of voters are thinking,” Mr Johnson tweeted. “Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be PM.”
Mr Ashworth has confirmed the audio of the private conversation with his friend Greig Baker was genuine, telling the BBC: “I don’t mean it”. He said: “I’m winding him up, I’m joshing with him, it’s banter” and also said “it makes me look a right plonker.”
The recording is damaging for Mr Ashworth, who has been seen as a potential leadership candidate in the coming months. The Leicester South MP is from the moderate wing of the party and was a former aide to Gordon Brown when he was prime minister.
Until 2016 he was an ally of Tom Watson, the moderate deputy leader who stepped down as an MP last month.
But when other shadow ministers resigned en masse after the EU referendum in June 2016 Mr Ashworth displayed loyalty to Mr Corbyn and was rewarded with the plum job of health spokesman.