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Corbyn issues unity plea to Labour MPs and warns over 2018 boundary changes

Published 21/07/2016

Jeremy Corbyn has offered the "hand of friendship" to rebellious Labour MPs - but confirmed they could face a re-selection process ahead of the 2020 general election.

Launching his campaign to see off a challenge from former shadow cabinet minister Owen Smith, the Labour leader said that after the election result is declared on September 24, it will be "the job, the duty, the responsibility" of every Labour MP to "get behind the party" and take on the Conservative Government.

Critics of Mr Corbyn fear they could face the prospect of mandatory re-selection from their local parties to be allowed to stand again, and the leader confirmed that, because of the Government's plans to cut the number of Commons seats, there would be a "full and open" process to choose candidates.

Answering questions after his launch speech, Mr Corbyn was asked to rule out supporting mandatory re-selection, which could give his supporters in the party's grassroots the ability to oust his critics by replacing them as Labour candidates.

Mr Corbyn confirmed that all Labour MPs would face re-selection when new parliamentary boundaries - reducing the number of seats from 650 to 600 - come into force in 2018.

"If this parliament runs to the full term, then the new boundaries will be the basis on which the elections take place and in that case there would be a full selection process in every constituency," he said.

"But the sitting MP for any part or any substantial part of the new boundary would have the opportunity to put their name forward so there will be a full and open selection process for every Constituency Labour Party in the UK."

Mr Corbyn is favourite to win the postal ballot of Labour's members - whose ranks he said had swelled to more than 500,000 - as well as the 183,000 people who signed up this week as registered supporters and the affiliated supporters in the unions.

But Mr Smith has the nominations of 162 of the party's MPs - some 70% of its representation in the Commons - along with half of Labour's MEPs.

And the Saving Labour movement, which is backing Mr Smith's campaign, claimed the new supporters who signed up this week would be split between the rival candidates rather than being staunchly pro-Corbyn.

The party leader insisted he could bring Labour back together after the revolt against him at Westminster and lead it into government, claiming "this party is going places" and was "capable of winning a general election".

He said: "There is a huge amount of talent on the Labour benches. We are part of but not the entirety of the Labour Party and the Labour movement.

"And I hope that those that may not agree with me politically, may not even like me personally - I find that hard to believe, but there are some people apparently who don't like me - I hold out the hand of friendship to them all, because come September when this election is done and dusted, there will still be a Tory Government in office, there will still be grotesque levels of inequality in our society, there will still be whole parts of this country that are left-behind Britain.

"It's the job, it's the duty, it's the responsibility of every Labour MP to get behind the party at that point and put it there against the Tories about the different, fairer kind of Britain that we can build together."

Mr Corbyn took a dig at his rival's former job with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, saying: "I hope Owen will fully agree with me that our NHS should be free at the point of use, should be run by publicly employed workers working for the NHS not for private contractors, and medical research shouldn't be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council."

But he said Mr Smith would be "very welcome" after the leadership election to rejoin the shadow cabinet, which he quit along with many other frontbenchers in the wake of the EU referendum in June.

"Owen Smith was in the shadow cabinet until two weeks ago and he came to see me to say he was very happy in the shadow cabinet and wanted to stay there and then left the meeting and resigned which was a slightly odd thing to do," said the Labour leader.

"But of course he is very welcome to come back and I hope he would because that has got to be the right way of doing things."

Mr Corbyn used his launch event to set out plans to force firms with more than 21 employees to publish equality pay audits, with the prospect of fines for non-compliance.

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