Labour’s conference in Liverpool could be the scene of a bitter battle over the divisive issue of mandatory reselection after hard-left groups tabled motions that would force MPs to fight for the right to be Parliamentary candidates.
Labour International and Young Labour have submitted rule changes that would mean sitting Labour MPs are challenged by local activists within two years of the last election – meaning that hundreds of Parliamentarians could be removed before the next election.
Both amendments would allow them to be challenged in an open selection, with the Labour candidate selected by a full vote of local party members.
The proposal underlines the threat posed to sitting Labour MPs by moves to further ‘democratise’ the party.
Under existing rules, MPs can be subjected to a ‘trigger ballot’ that – if lost – effectively constitutes a vote of no confidence in their performance. Only at that stage is the selection process opened up, with alternative candidates putting them forward.
The motion tabled by Labour International says: “If a CLP is represented in Parliament by members of the PLP……The CLP Shortlisting Committee shall draw up a shortlist of interested candidates to present to all members of the CLP”
The Young Labour motion says “normal selection rules”should apply in the same circumstances. Under those rules, branches can nominate up to two candidates (if two are nominated, one must be a woman), or three if neither of the two is BAME.
The changes would make it easier for a pro-Corbyn pressure group such as Momentum to challenge serving MPs around the country.
That would give members a clear choice between a long-serving MP and a fresh face from the left of the party who may be more effusive about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The vote could then be framed as a contest between pro and anti-Corbyn candidates.
The Young Labour motion also says the sitting MP would need to win twice as many branch nominationsas their nearest challenger to qualify as the sole candidate on the shortlist that goes to members for approval.
Under the current rules, Labour MPs effectively have to be sacked in a trigger ballot by failing to win the backing of at least of a third of local branches – including affiliated trade union and socialist society organisations.
A full selection then takes place and the candidate is chosen by a full vote of local members under the same rules used when there is a vacancy – although the sitting MP is free to stand again in that contest.
There is no guarantee either motion will be debated at conference, however, and in order for them to succeed at least one will need to be backed by the leader’s office.
Jeremy Corbyn has consistently played down the prospect of introducing mandatory reselections, which are fiercely opposed by the vast majority of his MPs. But the motion sits firmly within the tradition of making MPs more accountable to members, an issue which Corbyn and his supporters have campaigned on vocally for decades.
But the proposed rule change would also make it possible for hard-left MPs to be challenged by moderate members in their own local parties.
The chances of ousting pro-Corbyn MPs would be slim, but spending time and energy fighting a challenge would be an unwelcome distraction for Corbyn loyalists who are currently at no risk of deselection.
Vocal backbencher Chris Williamson, who has been on a summer ‘deselection’ tour aimed at moderate MPs, is one of the Corbyn loyalists most likely to be challenged under a new system.
Many of his members in Derby are said to be frustrated by his high-profile attacks on fellow MPs and his uncompromising approach to the party’s antiSemitism crisis, which he insists has been fabricated by critics of the Labour leader.