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'Disloyal' Labour MPs could be forced out in boundary shake-up, it is claimed

Published 12/09/2016

The House of Commons is going to see a reduced number of MPs.
The House of Commons is going to see a reduced number of MPs.

A member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee has suggested the party may use a massive shake-up of constituency boundaries to force out MPs who have been disloyal to leader Jeremy Corbyn.

New proposals designed to slash the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will abolish a number of Labour-held seats, including the constituencies of Mr Corbyn and his leadership rival Owen Smith.

Corbyn-backing Darren Williams, who joined the NEC earlier this year, said that the process of choosing candidates to fight new or altered seats in the 2020 general election would provided an opportunity to select individuals who are "in tune with the views of ordinary party members".

Along with Mr Smith - whose Pontypridd seat is being merged with neighbouring Cynon Valley - Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) and Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) are among leading Labour moderates facing significant changes which could leave them vulnerable to de-selection attempts by hardline Corbyn supporters.

Mr Williams told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think where MPs have consistently demonstrated a disloyalty to the party leader and to the views on which he was elected then I think party members are within their rights to ask whether those MPs should continue to represent them.

"I do think the redrawing of boundaries does present an opportunity for the selection of some new candidates who may be more in tune with the views of ordinary party members."

But shadow cabinet member Jon Ashworth insisted the process was "not about deselecting MPs". Mr Williams' comments did not represent "the position of Jeremy or his people", he told Today.

Mr Ashworth said the party had "a very clear process" for dealing with boundary changes.

"If your seat disappears - like Jeremy Corbyn's seat apparently does - but you have some territorial claim to a neighbouring seat - as Jeremy Corbyn does apparently with the Finsbury Park and Stoke Newington seat - you have the right to contest that seat," he said. "This is not about deselecting MPs."

Aides to the Labour leader insisted there was "every reason to believe" he would be candidate for one of the new seats created by the proposed carve-up of north London constituencies currently held by Mr Corbyn and his close allies Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry. But Mr Corbyn himself said he was "very unhappy" at the size of the new constituency created by the proposed abolition of the Islington North seat which he has represented for 33 years.

Labour has vowed to fight the "unfair, undemocratic and unacceptable" changes proposed by the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales, arguing that the 2015 electoral rolls used to calculate the size of new constituencies were out of date, because they miss out a surge of two million extra voters who signed up to take part in the EU referendum.

Some senior Conservatives - including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Education Secretary Justine Greening and former chancellor George Osborne - will see the map of their constituencies radically redrawn or abolished altogether.

But the party has said it will adopting a "no colleague left behind" to minimise disruption to sitting MPs.

"This constructive approach is in strong contrast to the Labour Party which is riddled with infighting and threats of deselection," said Sir Patrick. "Momentum's aim to use this process to boot out moderate Labour MPs is not an argument against these vital reforms, which will ensure fairness across the United Kingdom."

Mr Ashworth said: " There is nothing fair about redrawing boundaries with millions left out, and reducing the number of elected MPs while the unelected House of Lords continues to grow.

"These changes are not about fairness to voters, they are about what is best for the Tory Party and they must not go ahead. The commission must rethink and ensure that no elector loses out."

The initial proposals for England and Wales, announced on Tuesday, follow those for Northern Ireland which were disclosed last week. Plans for Scotland are due to be published on October 20. Final proposals are due in October 2018 for use in the general election scheduled for May 2020.

The number of MPs will be cut from 533 to 501 in England, from 59 to 53 in Scotland, from 40 to 29 in Wales, and from 18 to 17 in Northern Ireland, with the aim of ensuring that each constituency - with the exception of a few island seats - has a broadly similar population.

Sam Hartley, secretary to the Boundary Commission for England, denied that the Government had influenced the proposals.

He told Today: "It's absolutely not the case. Every MP's view is worth the same as every member of the public's."

Labour's Sadiq Khan warned the party leadership not to use the review to get rid of opponents.

The London mayor said: "What this shouldn't be used as an excuse for is either from the Conservative Government to reduce the number of Labour MPs or by the Labour leadership, and I'm sure they wouldn't, to get rid of unpopular Labour MPs."

Mr Khan said the case load of a London MP is "humongous".

He added: "I think the Government is making a big mistake reducing the number of Labour MPs in London.

"At the same time they are increasing the number of unelected peers in the House of Lords as a reward for sucking up to the previous Prime Minister."

Liberal Democrat former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg denounced the proposals for boundary changes as "ludicrously lop-sided and gratuitously partisan".

Mr Clegg told a Westminster lunch: "It is taking one anachronism in the system - namely how many voters there are in each constituency - and singling that out because the solution will favour (the Conservatives), and completely ignoring the rest of the edifice which is so woefully undemocratic."

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the boundary changes would be brought forward in secondary legislation, which is usually granted far less time for debate in Parliament than a Government Bill.

"That would then see a vote in both Houses (the Commons and the Lords)," the spokesman added.

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