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Jeremy Corbyn accused of leaving colleagues 'hanging out to dry'

Published 18/09/2016

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of leaving colleagues "hanging out to dry" after refusing to intervene in alleged attempts by Momentum activists to deselect disloyal MPs so they cannot fight the next general election.

His leadership rival Owen Smith claimed the pro-Corbyn pressure group is actively attempting to take over local parties and force mandatory re-selections for critics, citing the example of Hove MP Peter Kyle.

A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary to air on Monday secretly filmed Mark Sandell, suspended chairman of Brighton and Hove Labour, saying Mr Kyle had "every good reason to feel nervous" and discussing handing out redundancy notices to MPs.

Asked by Mr Smith at a Jewish community leadership hustings if he would be "sanguine" about the allegations if they were proven, Mr Corbyn replied : "I don't think it's the job of the leader of the party, be it you or me or anybody else, to decide who the candidate is at a local level."

Hitting back, Mr Smith said: "I think that is hanging out to dry decent Labour MPs."

Aping Mr Corbyn, Mr Smith added: "It's got nothing to do with me, my hands are clean, if Momentum want to do that...'."

Mr Corbyn's efforts at reconciliation with disaffected Labour MPs have been overshadowed by threats of deselection and suggestions members could be involved in picking the shadow cabinet.

The Labour leader said many MPs will face selection battles in their seats due to proposed boundary changes, as some of his allies indicated support for deselecting disloyal colleagues.

Mr Corbyn told MPs they had nothing to fear because he has a "big heart" and is "very friendly" as he continued his efforts to hold an olive branch out to his critics.

Speaking at the north London hustings, Mr Corbyn reiterated his argument that the boundary changes will lead to selection battles.

"I think the boundary changes will unfortunately probably go through, in which case there has to be a new selection process in every constituency," he said.

"Every MP that has a geographical claim on the new constituency is automatically shortlisted, it's up to the local party to decide whether to have a trigger ballot or not, on that basis there will be a selection or non-selection."

Asked if disloyal MPs should be worried, he added: " No, the disloyal MPs should remember that I've got a big heart, I'm very friendly and want to talk to them."

As part of his reconciliation efforts, the Labour leader has said he is willing to restore elections to the shadow cabinet.

But as well as votes from MPs, the top team may have to garner the support of members and the leader in a potential three-way split of the electorate in plans to be discussed at a meeting of the party's ruling committee on Tuesday.

Mr Smith dismissed the idea of involving members, who overwhelmingly support Mr Corbyn, as an attempt to shore up the leader's position, while former frontbenchers such as Chris Bryant and Liz Kendall have expressed concerns.

Tom Watson is due to present alternative plans to reintroduce shadow cabinet elections by MPs, which were scrapped by Ed Miliband in 2011, but the deputy leader and other senior colleagues remain open to Mr Corbyn's idea.

Mr Smith told Sky News' Murnaghan programme: "It's an attempt to further cement his position and use the membership as a means of driving a wedge between the MPs and his leadership."

Labour MPs are beginning to accept that Mr Corbyn is highly likely to remain in post once the leadership contest concludes at a special conference on Saturday, and several have expressed a willingness to return to the shadow cabinet.

The leader has admitted to "mistakes" in his first year, and close ally John McDonnell has told a BBC Panorama documentary to air on Monday that the pair are willing to take lessons in leadership from senior MPs.

But the attempts at forging unity were undermined as Mr Corbyn failed to deny claims that he and his inner circle were plotting to oust Mr Watson from his elected position as deputy leader.

The Labour leader told ITV's Peston On Sunday that Mr Watson and Labour general secretary Iain McNicol were "obviously part" of the discussion the group were having about the future of the party, but insisted "we're going to carry on winning together".

Former deputy Labour leader Margaret Beckett described the situation as alarming and said Mr Corbyn was calling for unity in public but his team were saying and doing things to cause greater disunity.

"And Jeremy doesn't seem to be very good at disassociating himself from it," she added.

Mr Corbyn's comments at the hustings came after his ally Clive Lewis, the shadow defence secretary, backed deselection as a "democratic choice".

Len McCluskey, leader of the country's biggest trade union Unite, said critical MPs were "asking" to be de-selected with their behaviour.

He told Panorama: "I think anybody who behaves in a way that is totally disrespectful and outwith the culture of the Labour Party is basically asking to be held to account."

James Schneider, of Momentum, denied allegations the group was pressing for mandatory re-selections.

He told Murnaghan: "Momentum has been extremely clear all the way through, we are not campaigning for any deselection. We are not campaigning for mandatory selection."

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