Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth has insisted his apparent criticism of Jeremy Corbyn in a leaked secret recording by his Tory activist friend was “banter”.
The recording was leaked to Tory-supporting website Guido Fawkes.
He told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire he was “joshing” when he told his friend that he thought there was no way Labour could win the election.
The shadow health secretary added he did not think Mr Corbyn would be a security threat if he was elected.
Mr Ashworth named the friend he was speaking to as former local Conservative Association chairman, Greig Baker, and he did not deny that he made the remarks.
Asked on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme about his comments that the situation for Labour was “dire” and the party had made a mistake by not getting rid of Mr Corbyn as leader, Mr Ashworth insisted this was not his view.
“Of course it makes me look like a right plonker, but it’s not what I mean when I’m winding up a friend, trying to sort of, pull his leg a bit,” he said.
Mr Ashworth said he was “having a bit of banter” with his friend “because he was saying ‘oh, the Tories are going to lose’ and I was, like saying, ‘no you’re going to be fine’, joshing as old friends do.
“And he’s only gone and leaked it to a website – selectively leaked it – and I thought he was a friend, Greig Baker, but obviously he’s not.”
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Mr Ashworth’s remarks were “an honest and truly devastating assessment” of Mr Corbyn’s leadership “by one of his most trusted election lieutenants”.
He said: “If even Corbyn’s closest political allies think he is unfit to be prime minister, why on earth should voters be expected to put their trust in him and them?”