Selecting our MPs at local level would be one way to ensure Labour remains in tune with its members, writes SOLOMON HUGHES
IN JUNE 2016 the Parliamentary Labour Party passed a no-confidence motion in Jeremy Corbyn by 172 MPs to 40.
A crowd of a few thousand Labour members protested outside, backing Jeremy.
In September 2016 Labour members voted in a leadership contest sparked by the no confidence vote.
A hundred and seventy-two MPs — 70 per cent of the total — backed Owen Smith. But the members agreed with the crowd who packed into Parliament Square. Sixty-one per cent of members — 312,000 people — voted for Jeremy.
So Jeremy was elected twice by the members, even though he was rejected twice by the majority of his own MPs.
Each one of those 321,000 Labour members was wiser than most MPs.
Each one of the thousands that stood in Parliament Square against the MPs’ abortive anti-Corbyn “coup” understood politics better than all the columnists who backed the anti-Corbyn MPs.
Not only were they wrong in thinking Jeremy was an electorial “disaster” waiting to happen, he massively improved Labour’s position.
Labour didn’t win the election but it began a journey on a path to power — one that didn’t involve pandering to the tabloids. Labour showed how it could run a popular, grassroots campaign on a socialist reform manifesto in the teeth of the most vicious and negative Tory and press campaign.
If MPs keep being wrong and members keep being right, the party needs to do something to change the MPs.
This isn’t just about fairness — although Jeremy’s lack of support from MPs has been incredibly unfair.
For all the work he has done, Jeremy deserves more loyalty.
The bigger issue is this: if and when Labour comes to power, it will face even tougher opposition.
It won’t just be the Tories and their media supporters.
An actual socialist reform programme — even the carefully costed one in the manifesto — will face tough resistance from the banks, the City, some of the Civil Service, some corporations and some foreign lobbies — particularly the US embassy in Grosvenor Square.
How will the Labour MPs who got scared by the Daily Mail respond to that?
So Jeremy needs firmer support in the party.
Labour is a coalition. This isn’t about imposing uniformity on MPs; it’s about shifting the Parliamentary Labour Party from a near-uniform “New Labour” stance shown in the no confidence vote into a broader, much stronger coalition.
Reselection is one way of shifting the Parliamentary Labour Party, of adding some Corbynista ingredients to stiffen the mix.
The right-wing press are trying to generate hysteria about reselection, based on puffed up stories.
There isn’t a “hard left plot to oust 50 Labour MPs.” There isn’t a plan to replace Luciana Berger from her Liverpool Wavertree seat.
There are just some comments on Facebook or letters to local papers from members who have been frustrated by Labour MPs’ incompetent resistance to Jeremy.
But don’t let the right pretend reselection of sitting MPs is an outrageous idea.
The mass resignation of the shadow cabinet and mass vote of no-confidence was, after all, an attempt to force a reselection of the leader.
Blair and his supporters also tried to use reselection as a tool to reshape the party in their image.
This showed they thought that the direction of politics — how we run society — is more important than considerations about an MP’s “career.”
There have been at least two attempts to unseat Diane Abbott by “moderates.”
In 1994 Oona King — a future “moderate” hero — tried to unseat Abbott.
King later said this wasn’t a “stab in the back” move against Abbott because “she, like me, believes in the concept of reselection and what we had there was simply the democratic process within the party in action.”
More bizarrely, in March 2003 Abbott faced what the Guardian called a “bitter reselection battle after supporting a call for Tony Blair to resign over the war in Iraq.”
She foresaw that the Iraq war would be a disaster.
Had Blair stood aside instead of rushing into war, we would all be in a better place.
The moves to deselect Abbott were part of a wider push.
Fraser Kemp, a leading “New Labour” MP and party election co-ordinator (Tom Watson is often viewed as his protege) called for all Labour MPs to be deselected, to weed out MPs who rebelled against Blair “every five minutes.”
Kemp was softening up the party for an attempted loyalty drive.
In 1999, in a piece of “control freakery,” all local parties were sent details of their MPs’ “unauthorised absences, abstentions and votes against the whip” from Labour HQ.
The New Labour leadership wanted these details to provoke deselection of disloyal MPs.
In 2003 the exercise was repeated. Under the headline “Labour whips turn up pressure on rebel MPs,” the Independent reported “detailed times Labour backbenchers voted against the government have been sent to their local parties before meetings held to decide whether to reselect them for the next general election.”
However, this, and most other schemes to get left-wing MPs deselected, failed because local members backed the “rebels.”
Democracy beat “control freakery.” As Jeremy Corbyn told the Independent in 2003 about any lists of his rebellions: “Nobody I have spoken to has complained about it. My constituency would be pleased.”
With the exception of Liverpool MP Bob Wareing in 2007, the “moderate” HQ could not force through reselections because they could not get the local support.
So they turned instead to changing the party by imposing “moderate” candidates when MPs retired.
That’s how we got vacuous Blairite MPs like Tristram Hunt.
On the whole, Labour could make room for more MPs who are in tune with the membership by ensuring more Jeremy-backing MPs can get selected when sitting MPs retire or get selected for newly marginal seats — there are plenty of them.
Allowing local parties to select MPs rather than imposing them from the centre would make this happen.
That would be the best approach, apart from those exceptional cases where local parties decide they do want to reselect an MP they can’t work with.
But if the party machine doesn’t show willingness to allow the selection of Jeremy-friendly MPs for available seats, then they will leave no alternative but a more widespread reselection of sitting MPs.