A local branch of Momentum has denied that it is backing the deselection of Labour MPs and has even claimed that its Facebook page was ‘hacked’ to discredit it.
The South Tyneside region of the leftwing grassroots network faced a backlash from MPs after its social media page hosted a blog attacking 49 MPs as “usual suspects” and urging them to “join the Liberals”.
The list, reproduced on the front page of the Times newspaper, included a clutch of MPs who defied Corbyn’s orders to vote for a Commons amendment calling for the UK to stay within the EU single market.
The MPs, many of whom represent constituencies that voted Remain in the EU referendum in 2016, were swiftly singled out for breaking the party whip.
With some leading supporters of Corbyn urging a rewrite of Labour’s rules to remove sitting MPs, the South Tyneside blogpost was seen as a call to deselect the 49 rebels.
But now the group has claimed that it was in fact hacked. In a new post, it stated:
“A few weeks ago, a cut and past [sic] article was posted onto South Tyneside Momentum’s Facebook site.
We would like to stress that this article was not posted by any member of the South Tyneside Momentum group.
We have been informed that our Facebook account was illegally hacked by certain elements that seek to discredit our group
The post contained a list of MPs who put forward an amendment concerning access to the EU Single Market.
Ridiculous claims have been made today that our Momentum group is promoting and, is in favour of deselection of MPs from the Labour Party.
We would like to point out that this is completely untrue.
As usual, we continue to fully support our local Members of Parliament, the General Election Manifesto and leadership, and to carry on our efforts to help elect a Labour Government.
Momentum South Tyneside.”
HuffPost UK has been told that just a handful of local members have administration rights to the group’s Facebook account and all have denied putting up the “hit list”.
The list was pulled down after the intervention of Momentum’s national body, and after MPs complained to their whips about it.
Momentum HQ dismissed the story on Thursday night as “laughable” and was among several who pointed out that the page had just 136 likes.
However, the battle for the future direction of Labour has intensified since the general election, when the party increased its numbers at Westminster by more than 30 seats and denied Theresa May her Commons majority.
Momentum, set up in 2015 after Corbyn’s first landslide leadership election to entrench his leftwing politics across the party, has in recent weeks seen its members take key posts in a string of local Labour parties.
But it insists that while it wants party members to have more of a say, it is more interested in changing the culture of local meetings and activism than deselecting MPs.
Party chair Ian Lavery told HuffPost UK last week that he felt Labour was “too” broad a church and was looking at reforming reselection rules.
He has since insisted he doesn’t want to “drastically” change the rules and wants all wings of the party to come together to defeat the Tories.
Corbyn has always insisted publicly that he personally has no desire to introduce so-called ‘mandatory reselection’ for every MP, though his close ally Chris Williamson has urged just that this week.
Brentford and Isleworth MP Ruth Cadbury became the latest to feel a backlash from local members after she was fired from as a shadow minister for backing the anti-Brexit amendment tabled by Chuka Umunna in the Commons last week.
Nearly a fifth of the Parliamentary Labour Party backed the Umunna amendment despite warnings from the whips to abstain.