POLITICS
14/11/2019 18:38 GMT | Updated 15/11/2019 09:40 GMT

50-Strong Group Of Left-Wing Labour MPs Set To ‘Embed Corbynism’ After Election

The number is likely to increase after Momentum and Unite dominated selections for safe seats, analysis shows.

Twitter
Sam Tarry, Jeremy Corbyn and Claudia Webbe

The number of left-wing Labour MPs in parliament is set to increase by a third after the election, a HuffPost analysis has found.

A 50-strong core group of pro-Jeremy Corbyn MPs is poised to be elected, following a raft of candidate selections in safe seats in recent days.

Backed variously by the party leadership, trade unions and the grassroots group Momentum, the changes could shift the dynamic of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in the House of Commons, some insiders claim.

The number of left MPs is expected to rise from 36 to 50, guaranteeing that a future leadership race would have to include a radical successor to Corbyn, who could then tap into support across the party’s mass membership.

One senior source said the group would “embed Corbynism” and could form a powerful voting bloc – whether Labour won or lost the election – to ensure the party did not return to the days of Blairism.

Another party insider said: “The Tory ERG [European Research Group] have shown how a disciplined group of MPs can shape a party. That’s what we want to do too.”

James Murray/Twitter
London's deputy mayor for housing James Murray, left, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Murray is Labour's candidate for the seat of Ealing North.

As nominations formally closed for the 2019 general election, the new list of Labour’s candidates confirms a shift in the likely make-up of the party in parliament, following weeks of intense battles over plum constituencies.

Centre-left and ‘moderate’ candidates pulled off some surprises early in the process in several seats such as Vauxhall, Ynys Mon, Blyth Valley and Coventry North West.

But once the election was called, special panels – made up of two members of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) and a regional and local party official – were used for last-minute selections and the left began to dominate.

Unite the Union has emerged as one of the biggest winners in such seats, where a candidate was effectively ‘imposed’ rather than selected by local members.

And among the safe seats overall where MPs retired or defected, the union has managed to get nine of its lead candidates picked. Unison has managed five, the GMB got two. In many cases, Momentum’s backing was invaluable.

Although some left candidates in Labour seats are facing possible defeat, not least in Midlands, northern and Scottish constituencies, overall there is expected to be a net gain of more than 13 MPs from the last parliament.

Each section of the party has high hopes for some ‘rising stars’ in the new intake, though not all of them are on the traditional Left.

Unite candidates include Diane Abbott’s former special advisor Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Streatham), London’s deputy mayor for housing and former Islington Council housing chief James Murray (Ealing North, pictured above with Corbyn) and Tony Tinley (Derby North). Unison’s include Paula Barker (Liverpool Wavertree) and Susan Dungworth (Blyth Valley).

The TSSA and GMB backed Sam Tarry (Ilford South)(pictured above), and the GMB Sarah Owen (Luton North) and Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North). Momentum’s biggest successes included Apsana Begum (Limehouse and Poplar), Nav Mishra (Stockport) and Zara Sultana (Coventry South).

In several member-led selections, unions allied with each other and with Momentum in order to deliver enough votes for the candidate. The grassroots group – founded by veteran activist Jon Lansman – has had a crucial influence. But so too has Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff, as the selections entered the final days.

Murphy has played a key role in many of the selections, sources say. After she was seen as being sidelined from the leader’s office team into a new role at party HQ, she is said to have fought “a fierce rearguard action” to get left candidates installed.

“Karie was in total control of the late selections,” one party source said. “She’s got more power than she ever had before.”

PA Archive/PA Images
Karie Murphy and Jeremy Corbyn

In the West Midlands, one of the few areas run by new regional officers appointed in the Corbyn era, two local ‘community organisers’ have ended up being selected for safe seats.

Both Zara Sultana and James Cunningham, who also have strong Momentum backing, have faced controversy and complaints against them, but will now contest Coventry South and West Bromwich West respectively.

A Momentum spokesperson said: “We’re delighted that so many Momentum-backed candidates are on track to becoming MPs.

“This is a victory for the grassroots who overwhelmingly back the leadership and the new direction of the party, and we hope it will go some way to making sure the PLP is more representative.

“This is also one of the most diverse intakes ever, with a very high number of BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] and female MPs.”

One party source stressed that trade unions were in fact among the biggest drivers of the change, and had worked closely with each other and with Momentum to get their candidates selected.

“This is the continuation of a nine-year project to get a group of good, leftwing union MPs. It’s a massive positive,” they said.

A union source added: “We didn’t want another New Labour situation where we just got the scraps. We want influence on the party in parliament.

“That’s not necessarily a left-right thing sometimes. It’s definitely not a takeover by Aaron Bastani [the online activist] and his mates.

“There is not one homogenised left. There is a danger that the left splinters as it tends to always do. The Skwawkbox [the website associated with Karie Murphy] left is very different from the union left and from the Lansman left.”

But Luke Akehurst, secretary of the centre-left grouping Labour First, was scathing about the way his opponents had used the same tactics they once denounced when Tony Blair was in power.

“The hard left have used every trick in the book to try to maximise the number of new MPs they get,” he said. “This has involved denying or limiting democratic member choice in a series of selections.

“They have improved their position but it’s far from the radical reshaping of the PLP they want and need as, where members did get a choice, they backed sitting MPs and often new moderate candidates too.

“Any advance the hard left has made has largely been the result of crude stitch-ups that undermine any claim they have to stand for member democracy.”

Overall, the PLP will retain many of the same faces it had in the last parliament, not least because not a single MP who was ‘triggered’ for a challenge by local members ended up being deselected.

MPs like Margaret Hodge and Diana Johnson comfortably won their local ballots in the end and once the election was called the party decided to halt the process entirely.

Only Birmingham Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff, who had expressed support for parents concerned about LGBT teaching in schools, was effectively deselected as the party barred him for voting against the party whip on Brexit.

The centre-left have been pleased that they succeeded in several seats, sometimes through good organisation locally but sometimes by default as party members rebelled against what they saw as ‘rigged’ shortlists.

Some also believe that the uncompromising way several seats were decided after the election was called, with several local councillors failing to make shortlists, will rebound on the party. “You can easily see them being triggered by their local parties in the next parliament,” one source said.

In Jarrow, Liverpool West Derby and Bassetlaw, members have complained bitterly about being cut out of the selection process.

“Where national Momentum get involved, they tend to pick people who will be good for the party,” one union source said. “It’s some of the local Momentums that cause problems.”

In Leicester East, formerly held by Keith Vaz, the selection of Corbyn ally and NEC member Claudia Webbe (pictured above) sparked a backlash from Labour Friends of India over the failure to pick a candidate more representative of the constituency’s Asian community.

But one senior figure on the left of the party said that, under Blair, candidates were also often “parachuted” into seats. All-women shortlists were avoided in 2010 in order to ‘gift’ key seats to figures like Tristram Hunt and Jack Dromey, they said.

“At least this time, these candidates reflect the bulk of the mass membership,” they said.

Corbyn himself managed only narrowly to become a leadership candidate in 2015, getting just enough MPs’ nominations. Since then, the leadership threshold has been lowered and the number of left MPs has steadily grown.

*The think tank British Future has calculated that the late surge in minority ethnic candidates in viable seats means that the UK is on course for its most racially diverse parliament ever.

Some 67 MPs from BAME backgrounds would be elected to parliament if each party were to win the constituencies that it won at the last general election – a rise of 15 from 52 elected between 2017 and 2019.

There would be 44 Labour MPs, 21 Conservative MPs and 2 Liberal Democrat MPs from an ethnic minority background.

Left MPs, 2017-2019

Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon, John McDonnell, Ian Lavery, Dan Carden, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Barry Gardiner, Laura Pidcock, Karen Lee, Dawn Butler, Ronnie Campbell, Kelvin Hopkins, Kate Hollern, Hugh Gaffney, Danielle Rowley, Dennis Skinner, Cat Smith, Laura Smith, Ian Mearns, Grahame Morris, Emma Dent Coad, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Marsha de Cordova, Jon Trickett, Clive Lewis, David Drew, Kate Osamor, Andy McDonald, Margaret Greenwood, Paul Flynn (deceased), Imran Hussain, Emma Lewell-Buck, Stephen Hepburn (lost whip), Chris Williamson (lost whip).

New left MPs 2019?

Mick Whitley (Birkenhead), Lucy Burke (Bury South), Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East), Nav Mishra (Stockport), Paula Barker (Liverpool Wavertree), Sam Tarry (Ilford South), Francyn Johnson (Penistone and Stocksbridge), Chris Altree (Barrow in Furness), Kim Johnson (Liverpool Riverside), Melanie Dudley (Dudley North), Rachel Hopkins (Luton South), Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Streatham), James Murray (Ealing North), Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North), Sophie Wilson (Rother Valley), Keir Morrison (Bassetlaw), Zara Sultana (Coventry South), Tahir Ali (Birmingham Hall Green), Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby), Carl Greatbatch (Newcastle Under Lyme), James Cunningham (West Bromwich West), Kate Osborne (Jarrow), Olivia Blake (Sheffield Hallam)