Labour MPs who repeatedly defy Jeremy Corbyn by voting against the party’s agreed position in the House of Commons should face a reselection challenge in their constituencies, Ken Livingstone has said.
In marked contrast to the leadership, which insisted it has no plans to force through reselection of parliamentary candidates, the former London mayor said it was right to remodel the party at Westminster to take account of Corbyn’s victory.
Livingstone, who has been a close ally of Corbyn for three decades, told the Sunday Politics on BBC1: “If your local MP is undermining Jeremy Corbyn, opposing the anti-austerity measures that we want, people should have a right to say: ‘I’d like to have an MP who reflects my view.’ It shouldn’t be a job for life.”
The intervention by Livingstone, which contrasted with a more emollient tone by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, came as the Labour backbencher Simon Danczuk said he was prepared to stand against Corbyn as a stalking horse if the party suffers setbacks in the May elections. Livingstone cited the remarks to the Mail on Sunday by Danczuk, who is a marginal figure in the parliamentary party, as he spoke of how Labour MPs who defy Corbyn could face challenges in their constituencies.
The former London mayor responded in the affirmative when asked whether he agreed that Labour MPs who regularly defy the party whip should expect to face a reselection process. He said: “If you’ve got 1,000 new members join your local party because they supported Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, you’ve got an MP completely undermining that, that’s fine. They should have the right to challenge that. It doesn’t mean to say they will necessarily win.”
The shadow chancellor sought to reassure those MPs by denying that Momentum, a new group set up by supporters of Corbyn and backed by the leadership, will be used to deselect MPs who disagree with the leadership. McDonnell told the Andrew Marr Show: “We are opposing any threat to individual MPs. We are not in favour of reselection of these MPs. The democratic processes in the Labour party will take place on the boundary commission in the normal way.”
McDonnell said that Corbyn had told a recent meeting of the parliamentary Labour party that there would be no change to the existing rules on the selection of MPs. “There is no way that we will allow MPs to be deselected in that way,” McDonnell said. “We will work together on this.”
But the remarks by Livingstone fuelled suspicions among Labour MPs who oppose Corbyn’s leadership say they fear that his supporters in the new Momentum group will try to oust them as candidates in the run-up to the next general election. They say that redrawing the parliamentary boundaries, as part of plans to shrink the size of the Commons from 650 MPs to 600, will provide the perfect opportunity to move against some Labour MPs.
Under the Labour rules for boundary changes, existing MPs have the right to be reselected for a new seat if they can claim a “substantial territorial interest” of at least 40% in the new seat.
But Sunday Politics reported that reselection battles could be triggered under the current rules in many of the 206 Labour-held seats in England. Just 36 will remain unchanged while in 54 of the seats the proposed boundary changes will be larger than 40% of the territory of the constituency, potentially opening them up to new candidates. Liam Byrne, Tristram Hunt and Chris Leslie, former shadow cabinet ministers who are now on the backbenches, are all named as MPs who could face constituency battles.
Labour opponents of Corbyn have highlighted an interview by Seumas Milne, the Guardian columnist who takes over as Labour’s executive director of strategy and communications on Tuesday, who suggested that the redrawing of the boundaries would provide an opportunity to “recalibrate” the parliamentary party.
In an interview on Russia Today, Milne said: “The Tories are planning to bring in new boundaries for constituencies around the country. That will mean there will have to be reselections, there will have to be new selection procedures to pick Labour candidates for those constituencies.
“On all sorts of issues Labour MPs are actually out of kilter with public opinion although they talk about electability all the time. So there needs to be some recalibration of that and I think that will happen but not in a kind of bloodbath way and certainly not in the immediate future.”
Milne’s interview was recorded during the Labour conference, before he had agreed to take up his new post with Labour. His key message was to play down the idea of a purge of MPs opposed to Corbyn.
But Frank Field, the former Labour welfare reform minister who nominated Corbyn to promote a debate within the party, said he would be prepared to break Labour rules to support any ousted MPs who stand as independents. He told Sunday Politics: “Now that’s a capital offence – a campaign for somebody standing against an official Labour candidate – but if enough of us go they can’t pick all of us off and expel the lot.”
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