Labour party to hold emergency selections for constituencies

Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot
Any potential leftwing candidate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn after 8 June will need 15% of support of MPs and MEPs Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Labour will hold emergency selections for hundreds of constituencies across the country next week, with allies of Jeremy Corbyn eyeing up key seats vacated by retiring MPs.

About 10 Labour MPs are planning to stand down, creating a battle over their winnable seats between those loyal and opposed to the leadership.

The make-up of the parliamentary party after 8 June will be extremely significant as any potential leftwing candidate to succeed Corbyn would need 15% of support of MPs and MEPs.

If enough leftwingers make it into parliament, allies of Corbyn may no longer need to pass a rule change – nicknamed the McDonnell amendment – at conference, which would reduce the threshold to 5% and guarantee the chance of a successor candidate on a future leadership ballot.

It emerged on Thursday that Labour’s ruling national executive committee will take control of the selection process along with regional boards, as the timeframe for the 8 June election means allowing party members a say as usual is impractical.

Under emergency measures, all Labour MPs who wish to carry on will be readopted and unsuccessful candidates from the 2015 election will be asked to seek selection again in England, with one party source saying a third had agreed, a third were considering it and a third refused. The Scottish and Welsh Labour parties will run their own selection procedures.

There has been speculation over whether figures such as Ed Balls, who lost his Normanton seat, or Chris Williamson, who lost Derby North, both in 2015, could seek re-election.

Candidates for other vacancies will be chosen by the party’s ruling bodies on the national executive and regional boards to make sure there are enough people to contest every seat by the first week of May.

However, the real prize for candidates are the seats vacated by retiring Labour MPs, including Alan Johnson in West Hull, Andy Burnham in Leigh, Iain Wright in Hartlepool, Pat Glass in North West Durham, Andrew Smith in Oxford East, Tom Blenkinsop for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and Gisela Stuart in Birmingham Edgbaston.

A number of allies of Corbyn have previously made bids for seats, including Karie Murphy, the head of his office, and Katy Clark, the former MP and his political secretary. David Prescott, another aide, is expected to seek selection in West Hull, while Sam Wheeler, a rising star in Momentum, previously sought to contest Gorton.

The national executive committee met on Wednesday to agree the process for selections, where Corbyn made clear he held no truck with any electoral pacts with Liberal Democrats, Greens or the SNP.

A senior party source at the meeting said for retirement seats, candidates would be selected by a panel formed from the NEC officers. “That places quite a lot of power with trade unions. It’s likely the unions will do deals that get them all a share of the vacancies, and that reduces the chances of too many parachutes of Momentum or pure Corbyn supporters coming through, apart from Unite-backed candidates,” the source said.

“But lots of Corbynista MPs have big enough majorities to come through the election intact – and the numbers needed are dropping because the total number of MPs will be slashed, so they might not need the McDonnell amendment after all, to get one of theirs on to the ballot. If that is the case, I expect Corbyn would resign. If they are short, they will seek to hold on to conference.”

Another source close to Labour’s NEC said: “Candidates are going to be imposed, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the leader’s office will be able to place their mates in safe seats. If MPs are worried about this, then the best thing they can do is restand.”

Corbyn had wanted to make sure local members had a say on readopting their MPs as candidates but this was deemed impractical in the time frame needed to make sure people are in place across 631 seats.

An email from Labour to constituency parties said: “It is with the greatest regret that local party members will not be able to select parliamentary candidates. This process is necessary and it is only due to the exceptional snap general election circumstances and will not set any precedent for future elections.”

The timetable for selections is extremely tight. MPs will have to declare their intentions by 6pm on Thursday. Applications for remaining seats will open on Friday and close on Sunday, followed by a week of officials longlisting and interviewing candidates for priority retirement seats.

The NEC and regional board panels will meet to appoint candidates directly from Sunday next week, and all candidates will be in place within two days, by 2 May.

Candidates will have to have been members for at least a year and not be in arrears or subject to disciplinary proceedings, seemingly ruling out a return to Labour for Simon Danczuk, the independent MP for Rochdale, who was suspended over inappropriate behaviour in 2015.

The Conservatives are further ahead with their selection process, having finalised their list of approved candidates. The Liberal Democrats are even more advanced with more than 400 candidates already in place.

Corbyn told his MPs at a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday night that he “does not underestimate” the challenge facing Labour but said the party was ready for the contest and would vote in favour of a poll on 8 June.

But the mood among Labour MPs was gloomy in the House of Commons bars, with some referring to fellow MPs in marginal seats as “our nearly departed members” and working out “what shade of toast” they were in relation to their slim majorities.

Senior party figures described the situation as “catastrophic” and mooted possible scenarios in which there were breakaway factions linked to the Cooperative movement or a rebrand as Old Labour.

The Fabian Society, a group affiliated to Labour, has said its low-case scenario is a loss of 40 seats but that number could be higher and MPs were considering possibilities from 20-100 losses.

However, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said he believed Labour would form the next government after an election that people felt was unnecessary.

He said there would be a number of radical policies to inspire the electorate, including a fairer tax system that meant big corporations and the rich – defined as those earning more than £70,000-£80,000 a year – contributed more.

A Labour party spokesperson said: “We will be laying out our policies on taxation in detail in our manifesto in the coming weeks. Labour believes in a fair tax system, and is opposed to the £70bn in Tory tax giveaways to the super-rich and big corporations.”

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