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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour Insiders Say An Operation To Deselect Corbynite MPs Is Underway

4 min read

Senior Labour sources have told PoliticsHome that local party members are hoping to reverse Jeremy Corbyn’s former “machine control” of the party by voting to trigger re-selection ballots for MPs considered to be on the “hard left”.

The MP for Coventry South, Zarah Sultana, has been named as being at risk of having her role as MP for the constituency contested by local members. Sultana, a vocal supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was elected in 2019 with a majority of 401. 

Labour members have accused Sultana of being “gifted” her Coventry South seat by the “Corbynite machinery” after former MP Jim Cunningham announced his retirement from Westminster.  

At Labour's annual conference in September the party membership voted in favour of overhauling the system for de-selecting MPs.

The change to party rules was widely viewed as an attempt by the Labour leadership to solidify the influence and control of moderates over the party in the post-Corbyn era.  

Constituency Labour Parties (CLP) can now only trigger an MP re-selection ballot if a majority of its members and affiliate branches, which include trade unions, vote in favour of it.

CLPs have between now and June next year to attempt to trigger re-selection ballots. 

“This is the result of Jeremy Corbyn’s machine control of the Labour Party in 2019,” a senior party insider told PoliticsHome.

“His supporters ran rough shod over local party democracy and prevented local candidates from standing in multiple parts of the country.

“This is the inevitable backlash.”  

No local councillors were put on Labour’s 2019 candidate list for Sultana's constituency, and sources told PoliticsHome this angered multiple local politicians who had strong ambitions to run for parliament.

Responding to reports of efforts to deselect Sultana, another senior Labour source told PoliticsHome: “This just shows we’re serious about becoming a party of government again.

“We have to select serious candidates who don’t look to unnecessarily undermine the party at every turn, to show the country we’re serious.

“It’s up to the local members to decide whether that’s what they think is the right thing to do."

A separate Labour source told PoliticsHome that "the moderates locally have already got the numbers in Coventry South". 

“Every branch ready to press the button," they added. 

The BBC reported today that Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Taiwo Owatemi, is also at risk from a possible rebellion within her CLP.

As with Sultana, Owatemi’s selection to stand for Coventry North West upset some CLP members who felt a local candidate should have been given the opportunity instead.

But sources close to the shadow minister stressed to PoliticsHome that Owatemi and Sultana should not be viewed as comparable cases.

Sultana is a member of the hard left socialist campaign group, while Owatemi is viewed by many in the party as a “non-factional” member.

Sources added they firmly believe there are no strong or notable local operations underway to unseat the shadow minister.

“These are two very different MPs with different views in different constituencies,” one insider close to Owatemi said.

“They very much shouldn’t be lumped as one,” they added.

“They are two very different people. It’s not that one’s good and one’s bad – it’s just a fact that they’re different. The criticisms they face are not the same.”

Responding to reports she could face a re-selection ballot, Owatemi said: "I have loved being the Labour Member of Parliament for Coventry North West for nearly two years now. Standing up for my constituents both in our city and in Westminster is a real privilege and a role I take incredibly seriously.

"I would very much like to continue in my role, and to re-stand as the Labour parliamentary candidate at the next general election. I look forward to winning the renewed support of my fantastic local Labour Party to do just that."

News of possible campaigns to unseat both Owatemi and Sultana have angered left-leaning Labour members.

“Launching sad little campaigns against one of our youngest MPs when they have been off on bereavement leave is some seriously dark stuff," Jess Barnard, Chair of Young Labour tweeted.

“Solidarity Zarah Sultana, we stand with you and thank you for continuing to be young peoples' voice in parliament!”

Zarah Sultana said: “I am incredibly honoured to be the Labour Member of Parliament for Coventry South and I am proud of the relationships I have built with members from across the local party.

"I look forward to continuing to stand up for my constituents in Parliament and beating the Tories at the next election. Now is the time to unite against Tory corruption."

The Leader of The Opposition's Office (LOTO) declined to comment.

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