Former Labour Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong has made a clumsy attempt in Saturday’s Guardian to guilt supporters of Jeremy Corbyn into abandoning hopes of democratically deselecting obstructive MPs – by claiming that Tony Blair saved the Labour leader from a similar fate:
According to the Guardian,
Armstrong tells The Westminster Hour on BBC Radio 4 that Blair ruled out the move, taking the view that the party was “a broad church” and could “tolerate that level of difference”, despite Corbyn’s fierce and persistent criticism of his administration.
This leads the newspaper to describe Blair as Corbyn’s “highly surprising secret benefactor”.
A little history is inconvenient for this version of events.
In 2004, there were moves to arrange the ‘show trial’ deselection of MPs considered to be troublesome – or showing ‘serial disloyalty’ as it was described – to then-PM Blair, including one Jeremy Corbyn. A senior Labour source at the time,
cited the names of six MPs who could expect to be asked to make a vow of loyalty before the NEC as the price for having their candidacy endorsed.
They are Bob Marshall-Andrews, who has voted against the party whip 51 times since the 2001 election; John McDonnell, with 79 votes against; Jeremy Corbyn, 87; Lynne Jones, 57; Diane Abbott 36; and Mike Wood, 25.
So Blair was giving serious thought to trying to force the deselection not only of Corbyn but of two of his senior team. And the architect of the ‘show-trial’ move – its ‘champion’?
None other than Hilary Armstrong:
This raises serious questions about Ms Armstrong’s claim now that Blair was Corbyn’s protector against an Islington North CLP that has stuck with Corbyn for 34 years during which he has maintained a healthy, even huge, winning margin for the Labour Party in the constituency.
The threat of deselection was anything but theoretical, too. As the above-linked article points out, Reading East MP Jane Griffiths had been deselected just prior to its publication.
In 2007 Bob Wareing, Labour MP for the Liverpool constituency of West Derby who had opposed Blair over the Iraq invasion was also deselected – and replaced by a Blairite ex-minister who had lost his Middlesex seat in 2005.
In the context of history, Ms Armstrong’s claim to Radio 4 looks like little more than a transparent attempt at emotional blackmail in the hope of preventing ‘serially disloyal’ Labour MPs from facing exactly the fate she wanted to visit on Corbyn and two of his front-benchers.
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