Would the deselection of Labour MP Kate Hoey set a precedent?

The pro-Brexit Vauxhall MP is easy to paint as a special case but her deselection would encourage others. 

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Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, both supporters and opponents have talked up the possibility of MPs being deselected by activists. But the party’s first major deselection battle is not over Corbynism but Brexit (an issue which divides Labour’s left and right).

At a meeting of Vauxhall Constituency Party last night, delegates unanimously passed a motion of censure against Kate Hoey, the seat’s MP since 1989 and a Leave supporter (Vauxhall voted 77 per cent to Remain). The motion demanded the removal of the Labour whip and a ban on Hoey seeking re-election as a party candidate. Not one member spoke in the MP’s defence and only three of the party’s 45 delegates abstained from voting.

The move was prompted by last week’s parliamentary vote in which four Labour Brexiteers (Hoey, Frank Field, John Mann and Graham Stringer) saved the Conservatives from defeat over the customs union and prevented a possible early general election.

The motion’s key section read: “This CLP recognises Kate’s hard work as a constituency MP and that there have been many issues on which she has taken a principled stand which have not necessarily been supported by all local Party activists. However, we believe that the accumulation of her actions and statements over the years, culminating in her supporting this reactionary government and a Tory Brexit, which will threaten jobs, peace in Northern Ireland and the future of the NHS, and undermine workers’ rights and environmental and other standards, cannot be deemed to be compatible with Labour’s core beliefs and values.”

Last night’s vote has no formal status but Labour’s National Executive Committee will now be challenged to approve an early trigger ballot (enabling Hoey’s deselection). Remainers are jubilant at the potential ousting of one of their bêtes noires, while Corbynites are noting that it would set a precedent (and highlighting the lack of support for Hoey from past critics of deselection).

The deselection of Hoey would undoubtedly help legitimise this procedure. But some will argue that the Vauxhall MP is a special case. Hoey has long been one of the most divisive Labour MPs: a supporter of fox hunting and grammar schools, a critic of the Good Friday Agreement (“not sustainable”) and an opponent of the post-Dunblane ban on handguns. More recently, she campaigned alongside Nigel Farage for Brexit and accepted donations from Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks. (On economics, by contrast, Hoey leans left and she did not join the 2016 revolt against Corbyn's leadership.) 

Labour MPs are traditionally critical of “factional” attempts at deselection. But in Hoey’s case that faction is her entire constituency party. And the left would regard her deselection as overdue revenge. In 1989, black activist Martha Osamor (who Corbyn recently appointed a Labour peer) was backed by the local party only to have her candidacy vetoed by the NEC. 

Should Hoey be deselected, opponents of Corbyn may, however, argue that it proves there is no need to reform the party's existing rules. Activist group Momentum is currently calling for an increase in the threshold needed to avoid deselection from 50 per cent of local party and trade union branches to two-thirds. Laura Parker, Momentum’s national coordinator, has called for the removal of Hoey and the three other Labour MPs who voted with the Conservatives against a custom union.

The left’s defining debate, as some call for the return of mandatory reselection (which the party abolished in 1990), will be whether such cases should remain the exception or become the new rule.

George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.