Prominent Labour politician, Hilary Benn, is facing potential de-selection from his local Labour Party after a rise of pro-Corbyn support within his local party. John McDonnell has refused to “intervene” in matters regarding the possible shock de-selection.
Hilary Benn has been MP for Leeds Central since 1999, and regained the seat in the 2015 general election with 55% of the vote with a majority of nearly 17,000.
There have been alleged reports of a Corbyn takeover within the Leeds Central local Labour Party. Pro-Corbyn supporters blame Benn for the wave of resignations in the Shadow Cabinet in June, which sparked the second Labour leadership election. Mr Corbyn fired Mr Benn as shadow foreign secretary.
Benn’s firing from the Labour front bench after Brexit (Benn backed Remain) was quickly followed by dozens of resignations from prominent labour Ministers, with many of those quitting criticising Mr Corbyn’s performance in the EU campaign for not taking the fight to immigration. Corbyn focused more on workers’ rights than the key issue of immigration, which led to many Labour strongholds voting Leave.
Mr Corbyn then went on to lose a no-confidence vote by his own MPs by 172 to 40, and faced competition from Owen Smith. This only led to strengthen Corbyn’s mandate as he was comfortably re-elected leader in September with a larger majority thanks to his strong grass root campaigners, and support from left-wing pressure group Momentum.
He is also on the wtrong side of many supporters of Mr Corbyn after supporting action in Syria with UK air strikes, which was going against Corbyn. He made the passionate speech to the Commons, which challenged his own leader (although politely) . Towards the end, he compared the imperative to bomb Isis in Syria to ‘why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini’.
Mr Benn now is the chairman for the cross-party Select Committee on Brexit, and was “relaxed” about changes to his local constituency party at a recent annual meeting. The Sunday Times quoted the leader of the campaign to get pro-Corbyn activists onto positions in the local party by claiming that there was”quite a few people” who would vote to get rid of Mr Benn over his spat with Corbyn earlier in the year.
Asked about the reports on BBC Radio 5live’s Pienaar’s Politics, Mr McDonnell told the BBC: “Hilary is a friend of mine and makes a major contribution to the party.”
However, when asked if he whether he would be willing to support Benn and force local activists to “back off”, he argued:
“The whole point of democracy in our party is we’ve said we’re not in favour of mandatory reselection. The boundary changes we’re opposing… and we’re hoping the government will start listening on that.
“But where there are, because of boundary changes, reselection – that’s dealt with at the local level.”
He did however say that Mr Benn had “a fantastic role to play” and he hoped “he continues to play a role in our party at whatever level”, but crucially added: “We can’t interfere in local democracy in our party. We’re a democratic party.”
New plans, supported by the Tories, to change constituency boundaries (and reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600) means dozens of already sitting MPs are likely to face a selection battle to represent their party in their new constituency (as there will be numerous candidates for the same party in that new larger region). Labour oppose the new plans.
Labour MP Pat Glass has introduced a private member’s bill which aims to prevent the boundary cuts, arguing it could break the MP-constituency link by making seats bigger. One of the main arguments for local MPs is that they will be active in their communities, and helping make their local area better. They will find it harder to represent the views of a larger group of constituents in parliament as they are more likely to have conflicting views.
On the other hand, Conservative MP David Nuttall suggested Labour MPs opposed moves to change constituency boundaries on the grounds they were “frightened of reselection because of the threat of [pro-Corbyn campaign group] Momentum taking their seats”.
Central Media Inc. Head Reporter