Key Jeremy Corbyn Allies Tipped To Replace MPs Who Quit For The Independent Group

Paul Waugh

Former Labour MPs who defected to The Independent Group (TIG) are set to be challenged by key allies of Jeremy Corbyn as the party moves quickly to pick new candidates to replace them.

Leading figures in the grassroots group Momentum, including some members of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), are tipped to run for the much-sought safe seats, HuffPost UK has learned.

Three male TIG MPs - Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie and Gavin Shuker - will all be replaced by women as the local Labour candidate at the next general election, after the NEC agreed female-only shortlists for their constituencies.

Seats held by Luciana Berger and Angela Smith will also be subject to all-women shortlists. The races for Stockport and Ilford South, held by Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes, will be open to both men and women, the NEC’s organisational sub-committee recommended this week.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and TIG MP Chuka Umunna

The NEC has not yet decided on whether to apply an all-women shortlist to Dudley North, where former Labour MP Ian Austin has quit but not joined TIG.

The battle for the plum seats, almost all of which have huge Labour majorities, is set to be intense and both the Left and centrist activists are now gearing up for the selections.

The NEC decision on the gender requirement for the shortlists this Tuesday effectively fired the starting gun for each of the races, which cover Labour heartlands stretching from Liverpool through Yorkshire to London. 

Corbyn and Labour activists have been urging the TIG MPs to step aside and stand in by-elections, but so far they have all refused. It is expected that Labour selections for the seats will start formally once the May local elections are out of the way.

The former Labour MPs who quit to form The Independent Group.

It’s unclear how many of the defectors will stand at the next election and fight their former party, but Chuka Umunna is expected to try a fresh bid for re-election.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott was among activists who took part in a Momentum day of action aimed at unseating Umunna last weekend and similar events are planned for places like Smith’s Sheffield seat.

Among the Left-backed names in the frame are NEC member Nav Mishra in Stockport, fellow NEC member Claudia Webbe in Enfield North, Abbott’s chief of staff Bell Ribeiro-Addy in Streatham and former Corbyn campaign chief Sam Tarry in Ilford North.

National teachers union official and Momentum supporter Louise Regan is being tipped by some activists for Nottingham East.

Under new party rules agreed last year, any constituency-elected NEC member who steps down automatically triggers a by-election.

As a result, Momentum is sure to retain its dominance of the ruling body should figures such as Webbe and Mishra get selected as Westminster candidates for TIG seats.

The party leadership is keen to use the TIG selections to get in place more women and candidates from minority ethnic communities. As well as the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme, Labour is working to establish a Bernie Grant leadership programme for BAME members.

Momentum is braced for a tough fight in some areas, and in a range of constituencies local community politics and other factors can matter more than political factions.

With the Streatham party said to be finely balanced between the Left and centrists London Assembly member Florence Eshalomi is seen as a strong contender in the battle to replace Umunna.

In Ilford North, Redbridge council leader Jas Athwal is seen as the favourite, while in Enfield North  restaurateur Ibrahim Dogus could stand. Some activists believe local councillors Neghat Khan and David Sedgwick may be urged to run in Nottingham East and Stockport respectively. 

In Liverpool Wavertree, among those speculated about locally is Unison north west regional convenor Paula Barker, though many Left-backed activists are expected to run.

Smith’s Penistone and Stocksbridge seat is marginal but while the wider Sheffield Momentum group is strong, her local party was seen as more centrist. Local councillor Fran Johnston is expected to be backed by Unite and GMB unions, as well as Momentum.

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