The chair of Owen Smith's campaign to become Labour leader has been accused of "clearly dodging" John McDonnell's challenge of condemning Labour MPs threatening to split the party. A source close to the shadow chancellor made the comments after Kate Green hit back at McDonnell over the weekend.

"The irony of John McDonnell offering hollow words on party unity will not be lost on Labour members and supporters," Green, the Stretford and Urmston MP, said.

"Since the devastating referendum result, Owen has worked tirelessly to unite the party, negotiating with Jeremy, with trade unions, and with people across the Labour movement in an effort to bring all parts of the party together.

"While John, who previously referred to the Labour Party as just a 'tactic', has remained relaxed about the prospect of the party splitting."

A source close to McDonnell told IBTimes UK: "Why won't she condemn those who want to split our party?" The war of words broke out amid reports some Labour MPs disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership would form their own group within Labour's parliamentary party.

McDonnell then claimed Smith, who resigned as shadow work and pensions secretary before launching his leadership challenge, had failed to condemn the anti-Corbyn plotters.

"Owen Smith therefore needs to immediately distance himself from those people saying they want a split, which is causing huge damage to our party at this time. Anything short of this will make him the 'disunity candidate'," the shadow chancellor declared.

The row comes as the leadership contest heats up, with the rivals holding rallies and campaign events across the country. Corbyn drew large crowds in York as he addressed his supporters in the historic city's town centre on Friday (29 July), while Smith took part in Liverpool Pride and delivered a speech on Saturday.

Corbyn, who attracted almost 60% of the vote in Labour's 2015 leadership contest, is favourite to win the contest. A YouGov poll for The Times, of more than 1,000 Labour members between 15 and 18 July, put Corbyn on 56% and Smith 34% based on first preference votes. The winner of the leadership race will be announced on 24 September in Liverpool.