Labour MPs are bracing themselves for deselection battles amid increasing pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to get all of his party’s parliamentary candidates in place for a snap election.
General secretary Jennie Formby has told backbenchers that the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is looking at the issue of triggering reselection races for all 256 sitting MPs.
Formby had also revealed at an NEC sub-committee a fortnight ago that her staff were working on a paper on an emergency election.
The general secretary is being urged by some on the left-wing of the party to act quickly to ensure that local members have a proper say over who becomes their MP.
Several seats had candidates imposed centrally in 2017 when Theresa May called a snap election, leaving many rank-and-file activists feeling disenfranchised.
Corbyn is ‘very sympathetic’ to the idea of members having a fuller say, one ally told HuffPost UK.
Even if there is no snap election, many activists want to press for early reselections and officials have been asked to draft a set of proposals, possibly to be presented to next month’s NEC meeting, sources claim.
“We expect movement on this soon, very soon,” one insider said. “At the latest, it should be before summer,” said another source.
Formby confirmed to Labour’s backbench parliamentary committee last Wednesday that she was looking at the issue of when to trigger reselections, one of those present said.
At the party’s full NEC a day earlier, deputy leader Tom Watson had asked for more detail on timing. Formby instead pointed out that lots of target seats - which Labour wants to take from the Tories - now had candidates in place.
One of those close to the selection processes said: “The original plan was to do this later rather than sooner. That’s been scrapped and there’s a big push to do it quickly.
“If a snap election is called, there can’t be the same process as last time where candidates were imposed. Jeremy is keen for that not to happen if he can avoid it. They want to be ready for an election whenever it’s called.”
Normally, parties reselect sitting MPs around a year before a general election, but the uncertainty around Brexit means that many have no idea if polling day will be in a few weeks’ time or in 2022.
Some senior figures in the party have spotted that the Tories have begun to reselect their own sitting MPs, including ministers, in recent months.
Many Labour MPs want their reselection triggers to take place later in the parliament, but some actually welcome the chance to get the issue out of the way earlier.
“This process will kick off one way or another. Why have the sword of Damacles hanging over you for years? It would calm the mood in the PLP and let us get on with the day job if we are reselected,” one MP said.
Some within the PLP estimate that only 20 MPs are in real danger of deselection, and often on the grounds of how responsive they are to local members’ concerns, rather than ideology.
The Left have been split too over whether to go early for trigger ballots, with some preferring to build up the powerbases locally to lay the ground for a credible challenge. They also worry about giving Corbyn’s critics a chance to form a putative alternative party within parliament.
Several Labour MPs who have been targeted by activists have privately warned they will stand as independents if they are deselected. Sitting MPs fail to qualify for ‘loss of office’ payments if they don’t contest their seat.
Momentum activists pushed for fully ‘open’ parliamentary selections at the party conference last year, in the hope to promote a ‘new generation’ of MPs.
They succeeded in lowering the threshold needed to trigger a selection contest, although trade unions retained a key role.
A Momentum source said the grassroots organisation would back local parties getting a more democratic say over candidates during any snap election.
“Obviously, we want more member say, so if possible we want member consultation in the event of a snap election. And earlier reselection makes sense in the current climate as the threat of a snap is very real.”
One shadow minister told HuffPost UK: “It would plunge the party into chaos if we have a snap election and all-member meetings are used to select a candidate.
“Those meetings would have to be moderated by staff, staff whose time would be better spent on the election campaign. There could be judicial reviews, you name it.
“Momentum are targeting between 30 and 50 seats. There could be near anarchy. Deselected MPs will run against Momentum candidates and Jeremy will lose seats when needs to win them to be Prime Minister.
“It’s beyond doubt that if we start an election campaign with deselections, Labour will suffer electorally.”
A Labour source suggested that Formby had simply talked about the possibility of a paper on the timing of triggers for reselections.