General secretary of Unite Union, Len McCluskey, poses for photographers on the opening day of the TUC congress in Brighton south of London on September 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The leader of Britain’s biggest union has urged Labour MPs to stop being “paranoid” about the activities of Momentum, the leftwing campaign group set up in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory.

Len McCluskey, who is general secretary of Unite, said that some of the criticism had been “hysterical” and that the group was an entirely legitimate expression of enthusiasm for Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

The comments came as Momentum’s leadership sought funding from several unions to move the informal support network to a more organised footing.

“All those people who have said it’s a bit of a rabble and full of thuggery are talking utter gibberish and nonsense,” Mr McCluskey told the Financial Times.

The comments will be seen as an implicit criticism of both Michael Dugher, who was sacked by Mr Corbyn last week, and of deputy leader Tom Watson.

Mr Watson called Momentum “a bit of a rabble” during an interview in December. His ally Mr Dugher repeated the comment soon afterwards, saying: “Their aggression is matched only by their stupidity. I don’t know what the point of them is.”

Mr McCluskey is a former flatmate of Mr Watson and the two have been politically close.

But many MPs were angry when Unite, which is Labour’s biggest donor by far, swung its weight behind Mr Corbyn last summer — having been expected to endorse Andy Burnham — giving crucial credibility to a then outside contender.

“Members of the Parliamentary Labour party need to recognise what happened last summer,” Mr McCluskey said. “They should recognise that a change has taken place and they have to stop being paranoid about it.”

Momentum was set up soon after Mr Corbyn’s victory on September 12 to harness the energy of supporters and to organise local campaigns on issues such as low pay and poor housing.

At present its supporters, who number up to 100,000, do not pay any fees towards the organisation, based at the offices of the TSSA transport union.

Its founders, who include MPs such as Clive Lewis, Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey, are seeking money to develop from the union movement.

Some unions are inclined to help, although officials are uncomfortable that it includes members of other leftwing parties, not just Labour.

“The idea that we would let any Tom, Dick and Harry in is something we wouldn’t support,” said one.

Many MPs dislike Momentum because they believe it will be used by the leadership to bypass and undermine Labour’s elected representatives. The group itself has repeatedly insisted it will not campaign for the deselection of any MPs.

But some of its members have spoken openly about wanting to remove Labour MPs who do not agree with its leftwing anti-war views.

The bad blood between the two sides has spilled over frequently, in particular when Momentum encouraged grass roots activists to lobby MPs to vote with Mr Corbyn against the Syria air strikes in December.

Many of the 66 Labour MPs who voted in favour of bombing jihadi targets in Syria reported bullying and online abuse from members of Momentum and the Stop the War Coalition.

Letter in response to this report:

Justification for paranoia over Labour’s Momentum / From Paul Barrett

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