Trevor Fisher says Corbyn’s continued exclusion from the Parliamentary Labour party defies due process and harbours big problems
February started with a mini media storm over Corbyn’s candidature at the next general election. The indications that he would be purged as a parliamentary candidate have been growing. Corbyn himself called for the decision to be made to let him stand – or, at least, to let his constituency party have an open selection. For non-Corbynites like myself, it is important the constituency can choose and that candidates are not imposed by the central machine. It is not acceptable for decisions on sitting MPs to be made by the party machine, and this is particularly so as signs that this is part of a faction fight have been clear for years. This fight dates back to the 2015 leadership vote and undermines claims that Corbyn was guilty of offences justifying suspension of the party whip.
Of the articles appearing when Corbyn explicitly called to be allowed to stand for Labour, the most perceptive was Nigel Morris in the i which argued that “he would prove a formidable opponent” should he contest “one of the party’s safest seats” at the next election as an independent. This danger is real, but for non-Corbynites like myself the issue is not just the fate of one constituency, but the wider issues of a civil war which is hampering the run-in to the general election by denying due process and democratic rights to party members.
Morris baldly notes that while Corbyn has been suspended by the Parliamentary Labour Party, “he was allowed to resume his party membership 15 months ago”. The significance of this is that as a party member, he has constitutional rights and can only be suspended and disciplined if he has broken party rules. He would also have the right to defend himself. Suspension of the whip appears to happen
without any due process, allowing allegations to be made without the chance to reply.
Morris focuses on the claim that Corbyn has not apologised for antisemitism in the party under his leadership, quoting Barry Gardiner MP who said that he had apologised but “not all at once”. An unnamed opponent of Corbyn responded that he has to “apologise properly and without qualification”. I doubt if there is any apology of any kind that would allow Corbyn to be a candidate. This position was supported by Starmer, who is quoted by Morris as stating, “We have not got to the selection of that particular constituency yet, but I don’t see the circumstances under which Jeremy Corbyn will stand as a Labour candidate.” This clearly indicates that Corbyn could not apologise in any way to get back as a candidate. If he has already been eliminated, the implications for Labour as a rule-governed operation are profound.
The second aspect of Morris’s article which needs attention is his statement that “the signs are that the Labour leadership will wait until close to the election to select a standard bearer to take on an independent Corbyn”, and that sources claim the seat is “being treated like any other ‘safe’ Labour seat where the sitting MP was stepping down”. No point in the Islington Friends of Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for his reinstatement – this indicates he has been removed without due process.
However, the Labour leadership has forgotten an important part of Labour history. In 1973, the Lincoln Labour Party deselected its sitting MP, Dick Taverne. Taverne resigned, called a by-election and won it, winning the seat in the first election of 1974 and helping in the decade that followed to boost the politics of the Social Democratic Party. Corbyn’s deselection is not the decision of his constituency party but the Wesminster machine. Taverne knew however that MPs can resign and trigger a by-election. Playing by the rules, he made history.
Corbyn has the same rights, and by deselecting him de facto, the party leadership has lost control of the situation. Corbyn has made it clear he will not retire until he dies. If he wants to remain an MP, his best chance of doing so is that he do a Dick Taverne. Labour cannot stop him, and would have to cope with the bad publicity generated which cannot be blamed on Corbyn. The party machine has also triggered legal action against Corbyn era officials which will be both media-visible and very expensive. It will happen in the run-in to a general election, absorbing funds that should be used for fighting the Tories.
These are not sensible developments for a party aiming to win an election. Corbyn is not responsible for this situation and must not be left high and dry in what is essentially a vicious faction fight.