The news that Labour Brexiteers Kate Hoey and Frank Field are both facing deselection threats for rebelling on a crunch Brexit vote has been met with notable silence from many Labour moderates. After the pair voted with the Tories on a crucial customs amendment which the government won by just five votes, they have both lost ‘confidence’ votes in their local parties. The no-confidence vote does not mean any imminent action but constituency party members could now seek a trigger ballot with the potential to deselect the sitting MP.
Hoey and Field’s sin isn’t just that they broke with official Labour Brexit policy – there are plenty of Corbynistas who can be classed as eurosceptic. Instead, it’s that they helped Theresa May get to the summer recess – the expectation was that if the government had lost that vote there could have been an early election or at the very least dire (in contrast to the current ‘very bad’) times for the Tories. It’s for these reasons that the national coordinator of pro-Corbyn group Momentum, Laura Parker, has called for the removal of Hoey, Field and the two other Labour MPs who voted with the Tories against a custom union.
It follows that the Labour Brexit rebels have managed to upset both the pro-EU members who saw the vote as a chance to soften Brexit as well as the Corbynista supporters who saw the vote as a chance for power. Hoey disputes the latter claim – as she explains on Coffee House Shots – and says it would never have resulted in an early election. Meanwhile, Field said he was doing his job by representing the ‘millions of Labour voters and two-thirds of Labour constituencies who voted leave, people who often feel their voices are ignored in Westminster’.
Regardless of their reasons, it has brought about a unique scenario where some moderates and Corbynistas appear to be sympathetic to the idea of these MPs being ousted. Usually when deselection and trigger ballot talk arises, it tends to lead to very animated chatter – and outrage – from the moderates who say it is part of a Corbynista attempt to purge the party. This time around the response has been muted at best. Few Labour MPs have stuck their head above the parapet to defend their colleagues. In some cases this is because certain MPs aren’t highly regarded by their colleagues in others it’s because they are pro-EU and it would put them at loggerheads with members to back a Labour Brexit rebel.
But the risk is that by not saying anything they pave the way for deselection and mandatory re-selection to become normalised within the party. If MPs don’t kick up a fuss this time around, will they have a leg to stand on if it’s called for later down the line on the grounds that an MP isn’t loyal enough to Jeremy Corbyn? Whether or not they like it, staying silent in the case of Kate Hoey or Frank Field could come back to haunt them in the long term.