A Labour grandee warned last night that the party faced an ‘incipient split’ after activists cleared the way for a purge of moderate MPs.
Lord Hattersley said ‘factional’ attempts to deselect moderate MPs would ‘destroy’ Labour unless Jeremy Corbyn intervened to stop them.
His warning came as the party’s annual conference in Liverpool voted to lower the threshold for local activists seeking to unseat their MP.
The move is likely to trigger a swathe of deselection attempts against moderate MPs. Lord Hattersley, who served as deputy leader in Labour’s wilderness years in the 1980s, said the party could not survive a factional war.
Lord Hattersley said attempts to deselect moderate MPs would ‘destroy’ Labour unless Jeremy Corbyn intervened to stop them
‘What is intolerable, and deeply disruptive, and will destroy the Labour Party, is if the idea of reselection is promoted – one faction trying to get rid of another,’ he told the BBC. ‘That is likely to cause the Labour Party irreparable damage. Certainly that is happening… if it catches on, the Labour Party is in severe trouble. We need the leader of the Labour Party to condemn it.’
Lord Hattersley, who stayed in the party when moderates split to form the SDP in the early 1980s, said: ‘I recognise an incipient split when I see one. All we need for a split is one or two longstanding, responsible, hard-working MPs to be kicked out by factionalism.’
Labour MPs currently face a so-called ‘trigger ballot’ before each general election, but have to fight other candidates only if a majority of local branches call for it. Under the new rule change, backed by the Labour leadership, only a third of local party branches will be needed.
Many activists at the conference wanted to go further and impose mandatory reselections.
Steve Arloff, from Bradford West Labour Party, said: ‘Many sitting MPs who have lost the respect and confidence of local parties cling on to their positions in Parliament with scant regard for the people who work their socks off to put them there. Hundreds of thousands of us members demand that things are done differently.’
Party deputy leader Tom Watson said mandatory reselection would be ‘very destabilising’.
‘We are potentially close to a general election, maybe any day,’ he said.
‘What we don’t want is MPs having to defend their positions in their local areas when they could be campaigning in Parliament.’