Discipline, deselections and Brexit

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Labour MPs must return a form, indicating whether or not they wish to be a candidate at the next election, to the party at 6pm tonight. That is also when the regular parliamentary party meeting begins, which promises to be another fiery one. Labour representatives are still angry and worried about a number of situations that appear unresolvable and/or have shifted to an unhappy compromise. The main grievances being…

1) Labour’s disciplinary process. PLP chair John Cryer gave a rare interview last night. Appearing on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, he said: “In quite a lot of cases you get a suspension but then the case just drags on and on, and it’s those cases where we need to act much more quickly.” This is a statement with which nobody would disagree. From those who believe there is a witchhunt against critics of Israel to those who want to see tougher action taken against members found guilty of antisemitism, the preposterous lengthiness of some cases is frustrating to all.

Another area of consensus might be that the party should implement an independent process. Majorities of both Chris Williamson supporters and critics in our recent survey backed the move. Writing for LabourList today, Justin Madders MP reveals that he has written to members of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), asking each to raise this possibility at the next meeting. (The full disputes panel meets tomorrow, before the BBC Panorama episode ‘Is Labour antisemitic?’ featuring former staffers airs on Wednesday at 9pm.)

2) Deselections. The threshold for trigger ballots has been lowered, making it easier for members to deselect their sitting MP this year. Cryer had views to share on this topic too, particularly as the husband of Ellie Reeves MP. The PoliticsHome story of a Labour member proposing a motion of no confidence in Reeves made the frontpage of the Evening Standard last week. “To do it with a woman who’s five months pregnant, who’s a relatively new MP and has clearly worked really hard – I think it’s beneath contempt,” Cryer said. And yet the move was only being outwardly championed by a single member, which shows how high the level of anxiety is among MPs – despite LabourList’s view that while full selection processes might be held in more local parties than before, there will probably be few actual deselections.

3) Brexit. Labour is now supporting a public vote on any deal though has not yet backed Remain. The party has decided on process but not outcome. This strange limbo state does not satisfy campaigners for another referendum, who are Remainers, nor anybody who wants to see the 2016 result implemented without further delay. It is unlikely to last if Jeremy Corbyn is indeed simply trying to “bring the movement with him”.

Going full Remain will not settle the issue, of course. Stephen Kinnock, a vocal critic of the People’s Vote initiative and leading proponent of a Norway-style arrangement, has said Labour must back the withdrawal agreement bill and other Leave seat representatives (particularly these 26 signatories) feel the same. The other problems have potential to work themselves out, but this one is inescapable.

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