Labour chair Ian Lavery has claimed local parties should not face “trial by social media” after a bitter row flared over attempts to subject a Jewish MP to a no-confidence vote in her constituency.
Liverpool Wavertree’s Luciana Berger was accused of being disloyal to party leader Jeremy Corbyn and was set to face two no-confidence motions, tabled by members of her own Constituency Labour Party (CLP), before they were withdrawn at the eleventh hour on Friday.
It led to calls for the CLP’s suspension from Tom Watson, who wrote to general secretary Jennie Formby urging her to take action.
Labour’s deputy leader said it was “clear” Berger, who has been critical of the party’s attempts to tackle anti-Semitism, was a victim of bullying and that the behaviour of local party members was “intolerable”.
But Formby later said while she was “pleased” the motions against Berger had been withdrawn, there was “no constitutional basis” on which to suspend the CLP.
Blogging for HuffPost UK on Saturday, Lavery said he believed it was “unacceptable” for any MP or local party to face “trial by social media, as happens too often in the current climate”.
“I have no problem, as a Labour MP, with being held to account by the members who do the work to elect me. That is party democracy,” he wrote.
“But there has to be tolerance and respect. No one, including MPs, should be bullied, least of all women members of parliament, some of whom, like Diane Abbott and Luciana Berger, have been subject to horrible abuse.”
But the Wansbeck MP claimed “very little” of the abuse directed at MPs actually comes from party members.
“Those members who do not express their opinions in a way consistent with the values of our movement should expect to be dealt with under our strengthened disciplinary processes – as they are being dealt with now,” he added.
But Jewish Leadership Council chair, Jonathan Goldstein, told HuffPost the withdrawal of the votes against Berger “does not bring comfort to those who have been watching the events taking place within the Labour Party under this current leadership”.
“This whole incident is part of a backdrop of a party using mob rule to intimidate people who do not agree with them,” he said.
“For a heavily pregnant Jewish MP – re-elected in 2017 with an 80% share of the vote – to be subjected to this is not only reprehensible, but is hardly showing respect for the democratic process.”
Goldstein added that shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s appeal to Berger to publicly pledge loyalty to Labour to avoid deselection threats was “truly shameful”.
In his blog, Lavery also warned any Labour MPs considering leaving the party to form a breakaway movement that they would “almost certainly” lose their Commons seats and would struggle to drum up any significant backing.
He said: “I believe that, as in the 1980s, any splinter or breakaway would be supported by no affiliated trade unions or constituency parties. Any MP quitting the party – all of whom stood on Labour’s manifesto at the last election and benefited from the largest surge in Labour support since 1945 under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – would be almost certain to lose their seats at the next election.
“A united party is the only way we will be able to make the changes our country needs, give our children better chances and stop a race-to-the-bottom Tory Brexit.
“Unity is strength, but it must be unity for a purpose. I urge any MP thinking of leaving Labour to remember that, and stick with us – and stick by the people Labour exists to serve.”
Former party leadership candidate Owen Smith revealed last week he was considering quitting Labour over Corbyn’s approach to Brexit.
The Labour leader angered many Remain-supporting MPs after indicating he would back Theresa May’s exit deal if she agreed to a list of five demands.
“I may be asked by the Labour Party to row in behind a policy decision that the party knows and the government knows is going to make the people I represent poorer,” Smith said.
Berger has also hinted that she could walk, telling ITV’s Peston programme: “There’s a disaffection with the lack of leadership that we’re seeing on all sides.”