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As Labour infighting grows, Starmer needs to take control

31 May 2024
| by Field Team

Labour faces its first election crisis – and what’s important now is how it is handled.

Over the last few days Labour’s selection of parliamentary candidates has rapidly ramped up and it’s clear that Keir Starmer is taking the opportunity to use this to further shape the future of his party.

Speaking yesterday (30th May), Starmer said he wanted "the highest quality candidates" to stand and the party expects prospective MPs to uphold the highest standards. But this has led to accusations that the Labour leader is purging Left-wing candidates as several were removed from the ballot while a raft of centrists continue to be parachuted into safe seats.

There’s been a lot of twists and turns but to summarise, veteran MP Diane Abbott said on Wednesday that she had been barred from standing as a Labour candidate after having the whip restored on Tuesday, but this was denied by Starmer. She’s vowed to fight on for reselection, saying she will continue to be the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington “for as long as it is possible”.

Hours after Abbott declared she had been banned from standing, Labour withdrew its support for two other Left-wing candidates – including a sitting MP. Faiza Shaheen was told she had “liked” social media posts that allegedly downplayed anti-Semitism, prompting her to consider taking legal action. Shaheen had wanted to overturn former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith’s win in Chingford and Woodford after she fell short by 1,000 votes in 2019. Current Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle was also suspended over a complaint about his behaviour.

Meanwhile, a slate of candidates loyal to Starmer have been selected for winnable seats, including Josh Simons, Director of Labour Together, Luke Akehurst, an influential member of Labour’s National Executive Committee and Georgina Gould, the leader of Camden Council.

The headlines dominating yesterday’s news cycle accused Starmer of being “ruthless” – with Abbott saying he was carrying out a “cull of Left-wingers”. Commentators from all political parties were up in arms about Abbott’s treatment, with even the Daily Mail’s leader saying the first black woman MP “has been jettisoned in the most brutal and hurtful way”. 

But, even if Starmer is being ruthless, maybe this is exactly what is required for him to win. He needs to show voters that Labour has changed and he’s putting the “country first, party second”. Either way, as we enter day three of the row, if Starmer is serious about winning he needs to resolve this issue – and fast – before the infighting risks spinning out of control. The row has revealed a split in the party, just as their election campaign was supposed to be getting into gear, at a time it should appear united and ready to lead the country.

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