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Momentum chief pledges Corbyn-backing group will not campaign to deselect any Labour MPs

Exclusive: Jon Lansman tells The Independent: 'Momentum nationally is not going to campaign to deselect any MP and we will stick by that'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 23 January 2018 22:47 GMT
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Momentum founder Jon Lansman during Jeremy Corbyn's second leadership battle
Momentum founder Jon Lansman during Jeremy Corbyn's second leadership battle (Rex )

The chairman of the powerful Jeremy Corbyn-backing activist group Momentum has pledged that the organisation will not campaign to deselect any Labour MPs.

Jon Lansman made the promise in an exclusive interview with The Independent amid rising concern among MPs on the party’s right that organised activists will push them from office.

It is the first interview the veteran left-winger has given since being elected to Labour’s ruling executive, marking a key moment in Momentum’s drive to transform the party into a vehicle for socialist change.

But for some the group’s unprecedented growth, coupled with Mr Lansman’s new influential position, has served to increase fears the organisation wants a purge of MPs who disagree with its aims.

Moving to calm the situation, Mr Lansman said: “Momentum nationally is not going to campaign to deselect any MP and we will stick by that.”

In particular, Mr Lansman hit out at recent report that a “deselection hit-list” of MPs critical to Mr Corbyn had been drawn up by Momentum and said the report had “no factual basis whatsoever”.

He went on: “We have made it clear that we are not going to campaign to deselect anyone, at all, anywhere.”

The Momentum chief did make clear, however, that a process is already in place should local parties wish to ditch their candidate at an election, under the rarely used “trigger ballot” process.

But Mr Lansman added: “No Labour MP that works hard and campaigns and listens to their members has anything to fear from the selection process.”

Pressed on what that would mean for Labour MPs who didn’t follow this line, he continued: “Well, I would hope that at least all our MPs hope to perform well and if they don’t aim to perform well, it wouldn’t be surprising if local members took some action. But that’s up to local members.”

Mr Lansman explained that the process has “always been there” and was used to deselect the Liverpool West Derby MP Bob Wareing in 2007 – eventually replaced with Stephen Twigg.

And at the time Mr Wareing accused members of the Labour government of being involved in an effort to replace him, denouncing what he then described as the “New Labour Mafia”.

“There’s always been that process,” Mr Lansman added. “I didn’t invent it.”

It is clear that some activists and political figures would like to see the current rules changed to make it easier to replace candidates with ones they say would be more representative of the new left-leaning membership.

Read the full interview with Jon Lansman here

Paul Mason, a left-wing journalist and supporter of Mr Corbyn, said he would like to see mandatory reselections – a process abolished by Neil Kinnock during his leadership of the party.

Labour MP and Corbyn-backer Chris Williamson also told The Independent: “In terms of selecting candidates, in my view, that’s up to members of individual constituencies and I therefore do support mandatory reselection – that’s not to say people should be thrown out.

“When we had mandatory reselection in the 1980s very few MPs were in fact removed. It would actually refresh democracy.”

The contentious issue of deselections was raised at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday, with many of those concerned remaining unconvinced by Mr Lansman’s commitment.

After hearing the Momentum leader’s promise, Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle said: “This is welcome news, but inconsistent with his recent calls for the selection process for Labour candidates for London councils to be rerun.

“Lansman’s real challenge is in ensuring Momentum members at local level adhere to his commitment.

“Failure to influence their activities could undermine Jeremy and John [McDonnell]’s statements on the issue.”

Others pointed to a ‘democracy review’ happening in the party which they said could be used as a vehicle for changing the process around reselecting MPs.

Another Labour MP speaking anonymously said: “It’s all very good saying that he is not going to campaign, but I think it would be good if he would state explicitly that he is not going to push for the trigger ballot to be changed.

“That’s what has to happen for this to mean something.”

The MP went on: “There is a democracy review going on, it would be the right thing to do to say that any change to the system that currently exists is off the table.”

Mr Lansman and two other candidates backed by Momentum were elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee last week – providing pro-Corbyn voices a healthy majority of the body for the first time since the leader too power.

But opponents were dismayed when soon after they took their seats, the NEC replaced the longstanding chair of a key panel that considers disciplinary matters.

Nottingham East MP Chris Leslie said: “The Momentum leadership is constantly obsessing about process.

“It is an attempt to instil fear into every single member of the PLP, whether they are on the front bench or the back bench, that the threat to their job is always there if they dare disagree.

“It’s a constant drum, it’s very passive aggressive. I wish they would deal with the issue facing the country, but the first thing that happened after the took seats on the NEC was Ann Black being removed.”

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