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21 November 2022

Starmer critic beats “right-wing purge” to narrowly win reselection

The incumbent MP Ian Byrne’s victory in Liverpool West Derby is good news for the Labour left.

By Zoë Grünewald

The Labour MP Ian Byrne has won his battle to be reselected as the party’s candidate for Liverpool West Derby at the next election.

Byrne, a left-winger and critic of Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, beat Anthony Lavelle, a Liverpool councillor, by 210 votes to 198 in a ballot of local party members yesterday (20 November). The third candidate in the race, Kimberley Whitehead, a councillor in Lancashire, withdrew.

Byrne, 50, who was elected in 2019, confirmed in October that he had been “triggered” and would have to fight for his safe seat after failing to get enough support to be automatically reselected. He had the backing of senior party figures such as Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

It was a fraught contest, with both sides making allegations about aggressive tactics and factionalism. Momentum, the left-wing grassroots campaign, called Byrne’s victory “a blow” for “an out-of-control Starmer machine willing to break Labour’s own rules, disregard trade unions and attack its own MPs in the service of their right-wing purge”.

Those loyal to Starmer, however, said that Byrne’s victory was proof that the leadership was not intervening in selection battles. Byrne claimed he had witnessed “multiple rule breaches”, including members being excluded from nomination meetings, and was considering legal action. He told Labour List that he had filed an official notification following a series of “intimidating” events last Saturday.

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Yesterday the Liverpool Echo reported that Byrne supporters had gathered outside the meeting, holding up signs saying they had been silenced and denied access to the final vote. Opponents dismissed this as a stunt.

For months there have been claims that the party leadership is preventing candidates from the left being selected for the next general election. The party retains some control over long-listing of the potential candidates, leading some to suggest that Starmer is exercising his power to ensure Labour is a moderate force. A Labour spokesperson denied claims of factionalism and said that the headquarters’ “due diligence” included weeding out candidates who could embarrass the party and damage its electoral hopes.

A number of MPs have faced deselection threats over the last few months. Sam Tarry, the MP for Ilford South, was beaten in a selection race by Jas Athwal, the local council leader who was controversially suspended as a Labour member on the eve of a selection vote in 2019 due to a complaint later rejected by the party.

[See also: Labour must make sure no one forgets the Tories’ Brexit disaster]

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