Four Labour MPs selected as candidates under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn could soon face reselection battles ahead of the next general election, Jewish News can exclusively reveal.
After new guidelines on selection of election candidates over the next six months were set to be agreed by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, party sources named Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana and Sam Tarry, a member of Labour’s current shadow front bench and the MP for Ilford South, as being at risk of so-called “trigger ballots” in which they forced to contest the right to stand as a candidate with other challengers.
Labour insiders also claimed Ian Byrne, the MP for Liverpool West Derby, and Apsana Begum, the Poplar and Limehouse MP, were vulnerable to similar selection contests fought within their local parties.
Ironically, all four MPs had previously backed calls for open selection contests to be held for all Labour MPs when Corbyn was still leader of the party.
Now, as Labour steps up its preparations for a possible general election as early as Spring 2023, all sitting MPs will be asked whether they intend to re-stand or retire ahead of the vote.
All Labour MPs wishing to stand again as candidates will then require the backing of at least 50 per cent of both local party and affiliated branches – meaning local parties can “trigger” selection contests if a majority choose to do so.
Jewish News has learned of growing frustration with Coventry South MP Sultana amongst many members of her constituency Labour party (CLP) – with her views on the police, the government’s Prevent counter-extremism policy, and her obsession with foreign policy issues viewed by many activists as “out of sync” with the mood amongst the electorate.
Sultana was never the overwhelming favourite of local members ever since the previous Corbyn leadership placed her on a shortlist of just two possible candidates to fight the 2019 election in the seat, leaving other party members unable to stand.
Elected with a slender majority of just over 400, in a seat where Labour previously held an 8000 majority – and having apologised for earlier social media posts in which she said she would celebrate the deaths of Tony Blair and former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu – Sultana has put further noses out of joint with her conduct since.
The 28 year-old MP attracted further criticism last weekend after photographs of her alongside anti-police activists holding placards labelling officers “bastards” and “assassins” were published by the Mail on Sunday.
Apologising for failing to spot the anti-police placards, Sultana said these did not represent her own views.
But two local members, who spoke to Jewish News, accused her of being more concerned with winning over the support of students studying at the local Warwick University rather than improving relations with many in her CLP.
Another member said her views on issues such as Israel, Prevent strategy and other issues “did not chime” with the views of the “vast majority of people in Coventry.”
They added:”Despite having Zarah Sultana as our MP, the local party is a remarkably moderate one, and is fed up with her antics.”
Local party sources confirmed that the view amongst the majority of branches in the constituency was to “go for a shortlist of more than one name.”
Meanwhile, in Ilford South there are continued frustrations around local MP Sam Tarry, despite his position as on Labour’s shadow front bench.
Like Sultana, Tarry was selected ahead of the 2019 election as the Momentum backed candidate under controversial circumstances after his main challenger, and likely winner, Jas Athwal was suspended in which has subsequently been called a “political stitch up.”
Despite being ruled out of the contest, Redbridge Council leader Athwal was cleared last year of any wrong-doing.
Wes Streeting, the MP for neighbouring Ilford North, is amongst those to have recently called again for an independent investigation into an alleged “stitch up” over the parliamentary selection.
Jewish News understands that Athwal still retains the support of almost all branches in Ilford South as election candidate selection looms.
Tarry, who is shadow transport minister and was once Corbyn’s campaign director, has also attracted criticism from local members over his response to issues such as floods in the constituency last year.
He also pulled out of speaking at the launch of the Redbridge Palestine Solidarity Campaign on the same day there were bad flooding issues in his seat, with calls for him to be on the scene helping with the clear-up efforts.
In Liverpool, the West Derby MP Ian Byrne is still facing a struggle to win over many in his local party – having been narrowly selected for the safe seat ahead of the 2019 election, with the backing of Momentum and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
Jewish News understands that relationships between Byrne and some in his CLP remain strained today, which complaints that he is sometimes hard to contact regarding case work issues.
Female local members also still remember the reporting of misogynistic Facebook posts sent by Byrne in 2015 in which he wrote he “hit the c*** where it hurts” in reference to Baroness Michelle Mone, the founder of underwear brand Ultimo.
Back in East London, Apsana Begum, the MP for Poplar and Limehouse, is facing issues with winning over a section of her local party. Back in 2019 police had to be called over claims that many rank-and-file party members couldn’t get into the meeting to vote.
“We had more than 500 people packed into the meeting,” Poplar & Limehouse party secretary Asra Anjum told the East London Advertiser at the time. “There were not enough chairs and people were sitting on tables. We have a membership of 1,500.”
It is claimed that members who had not backed Begum at the last election could be ready to take revenge by attempting to deselect her in the months ahead.
Sir Keir Starmer is determined to have all Labour’s election candidates in place by next summer, as part of rule changes agreed at the party’s annual conference.
The situation involving Corbyn himself remains unresolved. He is currently an independent MP in Islington North as a result of his suspension over his response to the EHRC antisemitism report.
A failure to issue a full apology to the Jewish community and to the chief whip for his actions over the report could leave Labour installing a new candidate to fight the seat.
Party sources believeD Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, may have been ready to announce her retirement ahead of the next election.
The veteran MP told Jewish News: “There is no truth to any rumours that I am about to retire. I am committed to fighting for a better life for the people of my constituency and across this country and those fights will go on.”
Jewish News has contacted Sultana, Tarry, Byrne and Begum for comment.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.