Labour far left denies plans to ‘purge’ anti-Corbyn MPs
Backers of Labour leader Corbyn say that the Times story has been exaggerated and distorted.
The newspaper’s front page on Friday claimed Momentum activists in South Tyneside, near Newcastle, had put together a list of 49 sitting MPs that could “join the Liberals.”
The “hitlist” was found on a Facebook page with over 130 members. Targeted MPs included rebel Chuka Umunna, longtime anti-Corbyn campaigner Jess Philips, and Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger.
“A [Facebook] page with 136 likes posting a list of MPs saying 'join the liberals' does not constitute a 'plot' nor a ‘deselection hitlist,’” Corbyn backer and political commentator Aaron Bastani wrote on Twitter.
Momentum branded the Times report "laughable," adding that the list did not reflect the group's national policy.
"The list was published by a local Momentum Facebook page with 136 likes, and in no way represents Momentum's national policy," said a spokesman for the group.
"With parts of the press sinking to such lows, it is no surprise that people are turning to social media for their information."
Joint statement from Luciana Berger and her new CLP exec. No apology - very positive.— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) 6 July 2017
Why are so many journos paid to create fake news? pic.twitter.com/ss6BcEEzy6
On Wednesday, a meeting of the Wavertree Labour branch reportedly saw a takeover of the group by a series of Momentum members, ousting a council cabinet member. Newly-elected Roy Bentham also demanded an apology from constituency MP Berger, who last year resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet over the Brexit referendum result.
“Luciana needs to get on board quite quickly now,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“She will now have to sit round the table with us the next time she wants to vote for bombing in Syria or to pass a no confidence motion in the leader of the party - she will have to be answerable to us.
“We would like her to come out publicly like other MPs have done and apologize for not supporting [Corbyn] in the past.”
Berger was quick to respond in a joint statement with the new Wavertree branch secretary, saying: “We are united in wanting to secure a new general election and the return of a Labour government under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn as soon as possible.
“We had a great local result on June 8, with the Labour majority going up for the third election in a row and almost four in five people voting for Luciana Berger as the Labour candidate. That is thanks to the hard work of local members and a revitalized national party under Jeremy Corbyn.
“It is a fantastic foundation for the next general election, whenever it comes.”
However, the events reignited a discussion over the deselection of Labour MPs by their local branches, with one senior Corbyn ally saying MPs cannot expect a “job for life.”
"There are interest groups and individual MPs in this party who think it's their God-given right to rule," frontbencher Chris Williamson said.
“No MP should be guaranteed a job for life and it's crucial that we all get with the times. MPs elected in earlier phases of this party run the risk of failing to understand what is really going on out there in society,” he added.
"Although this party's hundreds of thousands of new members were once demonized, the election has shown that the political instincts of these members are in line with popular opinion. For our party to succeed these members must be listened to."