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Labour MP faces deselection as local party votes for fresh contest

The party last year agreed to introduce more lenient rules for ousting sitting MPs.

Diana Johnson is likely to face a selection fight to be Labour’s candidate in her seat (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Diana Johnson is likely to face a selection fight to be Labour’s candidate in her seat (David Mirzoeff/PA)

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

Diana Johnson has become the first Labour MP to face deselection under new watered-down party rules.

The Hull North MP and former minister has confirmed she faces a battle for her future after the threshold for a selection contest was triggered at a meeting of her constituency Labour Party (CLP) on Saturday.

Peter North, the Hull North CLP chairman, said it would be “improper” to announce the result of the contest before all parties had voted – but Ms Johnson publicly declared the 33% threshold had been met.

In a statement on Twitter, the MP said she is considering challenging the move.

“I am disappointed to have been triggered for an open selection by a small number of members, especially when overall the majority of Hull North Constituency Labour Party members have so far voted to re-select me.

“I am currently considering a procedural challenge to the process.”

Labour branches across the country have been putting new rules into practice for the first time in recent months, with an autumn general election looming.

The rules, agreed at last year’s party conference, state only a third of either local party members or the same percentage of affiliate groups, such as unions, have to vote in favour of a selection contest for it to be triggered.

Those rules are significantly more lenient than previous stipulations whereby half of both local members and affiliates had to support a fresh contest.

Ms Johnson’s colleagues have criticised the decision to force the campaigning MP to fight to retain her candidacy against rivals in a seat she has won four times.

As the sitting MP, Ms Johnson will automatically be awarded a place on the ballot paper in the upcoming selection race.

First elected under Tony Blair in 2005, Ms Johnson easily fended off a Tory surge at the 2017 snap election, increasing her majority to more than 14,000 – up 1,500 on 2015.

Ms Johnson was promoted to the front bench by Gordon Brown in 2009 to serve as schools minister and she briefly carried out the role of shadow foreign minister under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership before resigning in the wake of the European referendum result.

The former barrister has been one of the central campaigners in the fight for justice for those impacted by the contaminated blood scandal – when the NHS gave blood infected with hepatitis C on close to 4,000 people in the 1970s and 80s.

The centre-left politician won the Backbencher of the Year award in 2018 for her part in securing a public inquiry into the blood scandal.

She is a member of Labour Friends of Israel and was involved in amending the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act in July in a move that legalised abortion in the six counties.

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Diana Johnson MP was heavily involved in moves to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Melanie Onn, the Labour MP for nearby Great Grimsby, tweeted: “Whether it’s the contaminated blood outrage or baby ashes campaign (amongst other things) Diana Johnson has never stopped fighting for her constituents or those affected in the country.

“She is truly outstanding. Sorry minority of members in her backyard can’t see that.”

Thangam Debbonaire, a Labour whip and MP for Bristol West, tweeted: “Diana Johnson is an outstanding MP, an example to everyone, standing up for her constituents, skilfully campaigning on national issues.

“Triggering her for full selection is the opposite of helping to defeat #LiarJohnson. Why would anyone think this helps us to win a Labour govt.”

Mr North said: “Kingston-upon-Hull North Constituency Labour Party is currently part-way through a process of consulting the local membership on whether they would prefer to automatically reselect our sitting MP, Diana Johnson, or to move to an open selection in which Diana Johnson would automatically be a candidate.

“Branches of the local party are making a decision on this, within the rules of the Labour Party. We have a number of branches yet to make a decision and it would be improper to announce the results of completed ballots before all branches have had the chance to discuss this matter.”

At the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Tuesday, MPs reportedly requested all incumbents should be automatically reselected to avoid the party being side-tracked by a series of high-profile reselection contests with a national election to face in the coming months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will bring another motion forward on Monday, having failed with a similar request on Wednesday, to ask MPs to vote for a snap general election.

The bid for a fresh poll is expected to fail, however.

It would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to pass but opposition parties, including Labour, have ruled out agreeing to an election before the threat of a no-deal Brexit is removed.

PA

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