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Frank Field calls for Labour MPs to stand as independents if deselected

Former minister says MPs should trigger immediate by-elections and run as "independent Labour" candidates if removed. 

One of the greatest causes of unrest among Labour MPs was the launch last week of new group Momentum. The organisation is billed as a "grassroots movement" to harness the energy of Jeremy Corbyn's campaign. But MPs fear it will become a vehicle for the deselection of critics of the Labour leader as parliamentary candidates. The involvement of Jon Lansman, a veteran of the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, and an advocate of mandatory reselection, is the cause of particular anxiety. "When there are selections of an MP, I would like to see MPs who reflect the values of members of the party," he said recently. "The fact is that Liz Kendall got 4 per cent of the votes in the leadership contest." 

In my column in tomorrow's NS, I reveal how some are responding to the threat. Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, told me that any MPs "picked off" should "cause a by-election immediately" and "stand as independent Labour". He said: "If candidates are picked off they will stand as independent Labour, cause a by-election immediately and a whole pile of us will go down there to campaign for them. They can't expel 60 of us. Momentum ought to know that they're not the only pair of wide eyes in the business. We're not powerless." He added: "Those of us who are not going to let Momentum win have a trump card on our side, which is that we would probably win the by-election." Field's intervention marks the first time since Corbyn's election that an MP has suggested that colleagues could stand against each other.

It is not only critics of the Labour leader who have been antagonised by Lansman. One Corbyn-supporting MP told me: "Jon Lansman needs to wind his neck in and get back in his box. He's doing a lot of damage." Sources suggest that Corbyn, who has rejected calls for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection, may soon distance himself from Lansman. 

Momentum supporters cannot fully rebut the claim that it will be used for deselection attempts. Forthcoming boundary changes will force selection contests in some seats and activists can already initiate “trigger ballots” against incumbents. But Corbynites are seeking to reassure their colleagues. Katy Clark, one of Momentum’s six directors, told me: “The reality is, if you’re a good constituency MP, constituency Labour parties recognise that. I would say to anybody who’s worried about new people coming into the Labour Party: embrace it, work with the new members, engage them.” She added: "People need to recognise what took place over the summer. People that voted for Jeremy understood why they were voting Jeremy ... If people supported other candidates they need to reflect on why those candidates weren't successful". 

Shadow minister Clive Lewis, another Momentum director, told me: "If people are concerned about Momentum, all I would say is judge it on what it does. If there are people who are spouting off about reselections and so on and so forth, those people are clowns, anyone involved with Momentum that is talking about that is a clown.

"I can speak for myself, I think I can speak for any of the MPs who've been associated with this, we are doing this from a positive perspective in terms of campaigning and engaging those new members - that is it. I want to see as many MPs as possible, as many members as possible involved with it. It has nothing to do with some kind of sectarian project. That's me saying that hand on heart, those are the intentions. That's not the politics that I backed in Jeremy Corbyn - sectarian politics. Always politics, always policy, never personal ... We want this to harness the energy of the Corbyn campaign and work with the Labour Party." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.