Theresa May has blasted “unacceptable” comments about Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s state of physical and mental health on the heels of reports that civil servants had said that he was “too frail” to become Prime Minister.
The controversy is centred around a recent story published in the Times in which anonymous civil servants were quoted as saying that, “there is a real worry that the Labour leader isn’t up to the job physically or mentally but is being propped up by those around him. There’s growing concern that he’s too frail and is losing his memory. He’s not in charge of his own party.”
Labour almost immediately bit back at those claims, along with a whole host of current and former MPs, denouncing the reports as, “totally unwarranted and indeed unconstitutional political intervention.” Many see the comments as a breach of the civil service’s traditional duty to political impartiality.
I’ve known @jeremycorbyn since 1970s. I’ve never seen him overweight or seen him smoke or drink alcohol, constantly cycling and running, he is as fit as a fiddle.The fat sleazy drunken reptiles now writing about his health and fitness wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a race with him.— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) 1 July 2019
“No wonder British journalism is held in such low esteem throughout Europe. It was disgraceful, it was fake news, it was lies. Jeremy Corbyn is as fit as a fiddle. It’s the Murdoch press, of course they are going to undermine and attack Jeremy.” @LenMcCluskey on #Marr— Peter Hughes (@PeteHughesUnite) 30 June 2019
Not a fan of Corbyn at all but those senior civil servants should be exposed and sacked immediately they have massively crossed the line and brought the service into disrepute— David Oliver (@david_oliver23) 1 July 2019
For his part, Mr Corbyn himself dismissed the reports, saying that the intervention was “something that should be very concerning to a lot of people.”
“The civil service has to be independent. It has to be non-political and has to be non-judgmental of the politicians they have a duty to serve,” Mr Corbyn added.
Senior civil servants briefing a newspaper against a prospective government should concern all of us.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) 29 June 2019
In government, we will end austerity and invest in our people and communities, and expect the civil service to carry out those policies. That is how democracy works.
Downing Street has reportedly confirmed that the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, will pen a letter to Mr Corbyn in response to Labour’s demands for an official enquiry into the comments, suggesting that perhaps an enquiry is forthcoming.
Moreover, seemingly backing Mr Corbyn in a rare political move, Theresa May’s official spokesperson issued a statement saying that speculation over Mr Corbyn health was “inappropriate” and emphasised the importance of a politically independent and neutral civil service.
“Impartiality is one of the fundamental values of the civil service and underpins its ability to effectively serve the government of the day. It would clearly be inappropriate and unacceptable for comments of this sort to have been made or briefed to the press. The cabinet secretary will be writing to the leader of the opposition shortly. I don’t think you would expect me to divulge the contents of that letter in advance of it being sent.”