Deselection lies in wait as the biggest challenge to the existence of the Labour Party. Get it right and it could result in a united party capable of winning a landslide not seen since 1997. Get it wrong and the party will resort to one of its favourite pastimes- creating its own crisis.
Deselection is the process of a local party deciding to ditch their current MP in favour of a different candidate in an upcoming election.
The call for deselection is part of the ongoing mission to democratise the Labour Party – giving greater involvement for members and activists. Recently this has seen the possible exclusion of Labour heavyweights Andy Burnham and Sadiq Kahn from the Labour conference, in favour of giving more time for member debates. (Labourlist)
Though deselection itself is nothing new, there are fears that it risks going back to the dark days of mandatory reselection where every MP had to convince trade unions and local party members to back them before each election. Indeed after the planned boundary changes in 2018 many candidates will have a fight on their hands to seek reselection, with centrist MPs like Tristram Hunt jumping ship before they are pushed. So why would Labour make this fight an even harder one by reintroducing deselection themselves?
What has fuelled these fears over Labour-led deselection are the plans to make it easier for deselection to come about – with groups such as Momentum pushing for the backing of 75% of members in order for an MP to be reselected. Momentum, the Corbyn-loyal pressure group, has seen its influence grow immensely since the 2015 leadership election.
This can be seen in at a local party level, with highly motivated, organised and vocal activists helping Labour secure many seats at the 2017 General Election as seen with Kensington, a seat many at Labour HQ saw no hope in winning. Yet this influence could mean that in the face of deselection, Momentum members in constituencies with centrist MPs might gain overwhelming levels of influence over the reselection of these candidates.
Due to this increasingly likely prospect members within Momentum, as well as MP Chris Williamson, are calling for the reselection to come into effect, with Unite (the largest trade union in the UK and Ireland) also passing a motion in 2016 calling for mandatory selection.
This growing desire of Momentum’s and the hard-left has come about firstly because many feel attacked by centrist candidates opposing them and the Labour leader. However these are the same candidates, such as Tom Watson, whose seats Momentum helped hold in the predicted Labour wipe-out in the 2017 General Election. Secondly they feel owed more of a say in their local party’s selection process given their hard work during the election.
Spirit of unity: @PeoplesMomentum activists giving up spare time in GE2017 to help candidates previously abusive to them and Labour leader.
The candidates facing deselection will unquestionably be those who have not gelled with Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure. That is, those MPs who are called ‘Red Tories’ and ‘Blairites’, being encouraged to either cross the floor or leave the party. Yet as it is often said, it is hard for Jeremy to demand loyalty from his MPs given his record in voting against his own party, the flip-side to his status as a conviction politician. This makes it seem almost hypocritical that Corbyn and his leftist supporters are demanding this watered-down Stalinist purge, especially considering that the very same behaviour could have easily ousted Corbyn under Blair or Brown.
If deselection of centrist Labour members were forcefully implemented, it could encourage important Labour figureheads to source new means of enacting their political beliefs. For example, many outlets including those of a more right-of-centre leaning have been touting the idea of a new party formed by Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative centrists.
New LBC radio host and political commentator Owen Jones has dismissed the idea of another centrist party because there’s no appetite for it, but the prospect of deselection might well change this. Jones argues that, instead, Momentum is aiming up their #unseat campaign at Tory big beasts rather than New Labour ones. Though this lack of appetite is true for now, this will change if Labour heads start to roll. Take away somebody’s job and salary and party ties may not seem like the most concrete of concepts.
How and if this deselection plays out is very much down to Momentum. If rallies and organised attacks against sitting MPs are seen to get in the way of constituents making up their own minds, then there will likely be a backlash. A short election cycle with deselection and infighting would perhaps be a platform Labour might never recover from.
The Labour Party is a broad church and as Jo Cox said “We are far more united than the things that divide us”. So, if Labour wants to get into power again, they should start practising what they preach and put those words into action, rather than just trotting out vague sentiments with no real substance.