On Sunday Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was on BBC Radio 5 Live and was asked about deselection, particularly in the case of Hilary Benn. This has become a news story because there is a local Momentum group in Leeds who wish to unseat Mr Benn and replace him with a candidate that is more ideologically in line with the Labour leadership. McDonnell’s response was that the “Labour leadership doesn’t involve itself in local selections to the local party. That’s democracy”. Not only is the the correct answer but it clearly shows the distinction between what the approach of Corbyn and Momentum is and what the right-wing sections of the media believe their approach to be.
A few months ago Jeremy Corbyn was asked about the idea of mandatory re-selection and in his response he said that in cases where the boundary review removes a constituency there will obviously be a selection process because the MP in question would no longer have a seat. In this situation, Mr Corbyn said, the sitting MP will have a right to be on the ballot. At the time this was blown up out of proportion and many newspapers ran headlines that implied that Corbyn was essentially orchestrating a top-down purge of his ideological opponents.
One of the key things that Jeremy Corbyn has said is that he wants to democratise the Labour Party so that ordinary people make as many of the decisions as possible and an elite cadre of party careerists can be thrown out if they are out of touch. Why do I mention party careerists? Because the day after McDonnell’s interview it was leaked to the press that Tony Blair was buying up office space in Westminster and was planning to re-enter British politics.
Let’s go through his thought process for a moment. Since leaving office Blair has been one of the most divisive and unpopular former PMs and when people who were ideologically similar to him tried to take control of the party after Miliband’s resignation, they lost…twice. Now he’s decided that democratic mandates don’t mean anything and that he will try and influence policy from the outside.
Do I have anything against people outside the Labour Party trying to influence its policies? No, I’ve tried to do it myself a number of times. My problem is that all this will do is reopen splits in the Labour Party and cause a fresh round of infighting. In essence it will sabotage Labour’s chances. Labour already have an uphill battle due to the current media and political climate, but having a former Prime Minister come out of retirement to explicitly undermine the leadership do nothing but ensure another Tory government.
What McDonnell said on Sunday illustrates how wrong the media was. If pro-Corbyn groups have organised and are capable of unseating MPs within the internal democratic processes of the Labour Party, why shouldn’t the MP be primaried? Labour is supposed to be a grassroots party that represents the concerns of ordinary people. If ordinary people in Hilary Benn’s seat, or any MPs seat for that matter, decide that they would like a different candidate at the next general election wouldn’t be undemocratic, Stalinist even, for Corbyn to say no?
On Blair the answer is simple. Tony, you’re politically toxic. Stay the fuck away from the Labour Party, because if you don’t the Tories are going to win a landslide.