Oh, what a delicious twist in the internal bickering of the Labour party. Chris Williamson, an MP who has spent the past few months touring the country campaigning for the mandatory reselection of his colleagues – or, as he prefers to brand it, a ‘democracy roadshow’ campaigning for all MPs to go through an ‘open selection’ from their local party every electoral cycle – is being threatened with deselection himself.
Williamson finds himself a target after launching into a row with the trade unions at last month’s Labour conference. The unions blocked plans for open selections, and instead went for a change in the party’s rules that makes trigger ballots against sitting MPs easier. Williamson reportedly had an angry exchange with Unite boss Len McCluskey about the union’s role in blocking his beloved reforms. And now, as revenge, local activists are threatening a trigger ballot in his Derby North seat.
Williamson has given a relaxed response to the report, saying: ‘I’d welcome a selection contest if one is triggered. I am continuing to campaign for open selections in every constituency.’ It’s tempting to think that this is just a PR front from someone secretly annoyed that a reform he’d hoped would remove his ‘moderate’ opponents has ended up backfiring on him. But that’s not quite right. As I reported during the conference itself, the Left of Labour has been threatening to use the existing trigger ballot process to force a version of open selections in every single Labour constituency. This would partly make a point that they’re not actually targeting those pesky Blairites but are just interested in reinvigorating party democracy, and also undermine the unions’ success in preventing the full open selection reforms becoming party policy.
The problem is that those left-wing activists from groups like the Labour Representation Committee and Labour International were really thinking about constituencies where the sitting MP is hugely popular with their Corbynite members and will find reselection a breeze. According to HuffPost, it’s a little less clear cut in Williamson’s seat. So Williamson might end up losing his own fight – which could serve as a warning to those who thought that mandatory reselection was a way of purging the Parliamentary Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents. And this may put something of a dampener on the plan for mass trigger ballots, which means that the unions will have scored a double victory. But it’s what the Left have been calling for, so it really is a case of ‘physician, heal thyself’, even if the medicine tastes rather bitter.