Ann Carlton

Do Labour MPs have the courage to stand up to Momentum?

As Jeremy Corbyn’s grip over the Labour party tightens, the threat of deselection for more moderate Labour MPs who do not toe the party line is increasing. Labour MPs who are concerned about their futures may be looking for ways to fight back. I can offer one example of how this can be done, from my time working as a special advisor to the Labour MP John Silkin.

In 1981, Tony Benn announced he was challenging Labour’s Deputy Leader, Denis Healey, for his job. Labour MPs, with minds of their own, were appalled. They saw the tactic as part of the nasty war being waged in the constituencies by a group called Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) to deselect them as candidates and to stop them speaking up for all their constituents.

Fortunately for Labour’s immediate future, those MPs did not just moan; following Benn’s 2am announcement of his candidature, they acted. Hurried discussions took place among members of the left-wing Tribune Group who did not want to vote for Benn but found it equally difficult to imagine voting for the right-wing and often abrupt Healey.

To show their distaste for both Benn and Healey, the disgruntled MPs planned to put up a third candidate. That candidate would be knocked out in the first ballot. After that they would not choose between Benn and Healey because they would abstain.

John Silkin, MP for Deptford and a former Government Chief Whip, offered to call the meeting, and, as I was his special adviser, I was landed with arranging it. I booked a room off Westminster Hall and listened as the unhappy MPs met to plot tactics.

At the first meeting Eric Heffer, MP for Liverpool Walton, bravely offered his services as fall guy.

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