Labour Leadership Branded “Heartless” In Row Over Left-Wing MP Deselection
Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News
Allies of Keir Starmer have been branded “heartless” after they rejected calls for votes against reselecting Labour MP Apsana Begum to be invalidated in light of her being signed off sick.
At a meeting of members of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, supporters of Begum argued that the so-called “trigger ballot” process should have been halted when the MP was certified as unfit to work.
Friends of the left-wing MP for Poplar and Limehouse pointed to the case of Ellie Reeves, who did not face a trigger ballot in 2019 after Jeremy Corbyn intervened on the grounds that she was 22 weeks pregnant.
But the demands to rerun recent votes were blocked by backers of the Labour leadership, who said pregnancy was different from being sick and there is no provision for holding back a trigger process due to illness.
One frontbencher on the NEC pointed out that the left of the party had championed mandatory reselections, a system under which all MPs would face a full selection process ahead of each general election.
An NEC member from the Labour left called the reaction “shameful” and “heartless”. “They deliberately turned the debate [into] a stick to beat the left with rather than address the party’s own duty of care,” the official said.
Another Begum supporter told PoliticsHome: “It’s going to end up in the same result, so just have some basic decency and wait until she's fit to take part.”
Begum declared in a statement in June that she had been “subjected to a sustained campaign of misogynistic abuse and harassment,” leading to a visit to hospital and her GP.
The MP – who has alleged that her ex-husband, a former Tower Hamlets councillor, was abusive towards her – described the deselection campaign against her as “abusive” and said it had “a significant effect on my mental and physical health”. Her ex-husband has said he is innocent and the allegations "have no basis".
John McDonnell, former shadow chancellor, told PoliticsHome: “The issue is not simply that Apsana is unwell but that the many allegations of bullying, harassment and intimidation are alleged to have association with the alleged domestic abuse suffered by Apsana.
“These need independent investigation. The credibility of the party on issues of whether we take seriously allegations of domestic abuse against women is on the line.”
Others defended the decision to go ahead with a full selection contest in Begum’s Poplar and Limehouse seat, highlighting that every party branch in her constituency had voted to ‘trigger’ their MP.
Critics of Begum dismiss claims that misogyny has fuelled efforts to deselect the MP. They say she is not accessible enough to constituents and her office does not deal with casework well enough.
A local member who ran in the council elections told PoliticsHome: “As a candidate standing in her constituency, her lack of response to letters and emails requesting support was raised on multiple occasions. I believe it lost us votes.
“Poplar and Limehouse residents need an active and engaged representative- someone who puts the needs of the poorest in our community first. Labour members have the right to choose who does that.”
Begum was last year cleared of council housing fraud charges brought by Tower Hamlets Council. The east London MP argued during the trial that she was a victim of coercive control and financial abuse by her ex-husband.
Women’s Aid expressed “solidarity” with Begum in June amid the trigger ballot votes. “All parties need to ensure that survivors of domestic abuse are not exposed to further [harassment] in their roles, and understand the impact that ongoing abuse can have,” the charity said.
Begum will automatically be on the shortlist of candidates in the selection contest taking place.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe