Those making thinly-veiled threats of deselection would do well to remember that Berger's success predates Corbynismby Jane Merrick / July 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
Where is the Glasto-love? Where is the sense of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” inclusivity which the supporters of the Labour leader/Real Prime Minister/Absolute Boy, in their post-election euphoria, proclaimed to have captured on a field in Somerset less than two weeks ago? What happened to the appeals for all wings of the Labour Party to come together and unite in the interests of winning the next election, whenever it comes? It has, it seems, been replaced by the hand-rubbing glee of Momentum activists seizing control of a safe Labour seat and their demand that its MP—who is currently on maternity leave—apologise for not being loyal enough to Corbyn. That’s one almighty comedown.
On Tuesday, Momentum won nine out of 10 seats on the executive committee of Luciana Berger’s Wavertree constituency Labour party. Roy Bentham, one of the new executive members who has regular bylines in the Socialist Worker magazine, issued the most thinly-veiled of threats that if she didn’t do as they said, she would be deselected. “Luciana needs to get on board quite quickly now,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “She will now have to sit round the table with us the next time she wants to vote for bombing in Syria or to pass a no confidence motion in the leader of the party—she will have to be answerable to us. We would like her to come out publicly like other MPs have done and apologise for not supporting him in the past.”
A chilling pattern of behaviour
The demand for an apology fits the Corbynite pattern of behaviour since the Labour leader performed better than expected on June 8—even though he did not win, or even get the most number of seats. Demands for apologies and pledges for loyalty—freighted with the threat of punishment if they are not forthcoming—are chilling because they are asking the individual to wipe clean their past views, honestly held. It is real thought-control stuff from the artillery of the hard left. That it is happening in Liverpool, where people thought they had seen the back of the hard left, of Militant’s threats and bullying of anyone who did not fall into line, makes it all the more sickening.
The key phrase in Bentham’s quote is “answerable to us.” It’s clear the new CLP executive members want to dictate the terms of Berger’s work as a Labour MP; they want her to represent their views because they see themselves in the mould of their leader, carrying out his good work.
Berger’s democratic mandate
But under our system of representative democracy, MPs carry out their duties in the House of Commons on behalf of everyone in their constituency, not just those who voted for them—and certainly not just a small band of activists who have taken over the local party. In fact, under the model described by Edmund Burke, MPs do not only represent their constituents but are elected so that they can form their own judgements about issues before Parliament.
Supporters of the Momentum take over in Wavertree—who include Corbyn’s former press officer Matt Zarb-Cousin—say Berger has the Labour leader to thank for increasing her majority in June. Indeed, the joint statement that the MP and new CLP secretary Angela Kehoe Jones issued in the wake of Tuesday’s elections said Berger’s massive majority of 29,466 was thanks in part to the “revitalised national party under Jeremy Corbyn.”
Wavertree isn’t Corbyn’s success
Yet this is true only up to a point. In 2010, the first time she stood in Wavertree, Berger won a 7,167 majority. This was a modest increase on her predecessor Jane Kennedy’s 2005 majority of 5,173 and came amid local criticism that she had been parachuted in by the central party.
During her first term, she campaigned on food banks, including making a film on food poverty—work which led to her being shortlisted for an award for “grassroots diplomats.” She was also one of the few MPs to raise the issue of mental health when it was still largely ignored in Westminster. She served on the frontbench under Ed Miliband, as a shadow minister for climate change and then public health.
It was all of this work—while Corbyn was still a backbencher—that led to her increasing her majority at the 2015 election more than threefold to 24,303: higher than her predecessor won at the 1997 election. So it was Berger, not Corbyn, who rebuilt Wavertree into a safe Labour seat. That this year’s result was even better reflects not only this fact, but the loss of another opponent. In 2015, Berger’s opponents included Ukip, who won 3,375 votes, as well as the Conservative and Lib Dem. In 2017, there was no Ukip candidate.
Anyone wants to claim that Berger has no personal mandate, who wants to demand she pledge her loyalty and offer up an apology, who wants to question her legitimacy, who threatens deselection if she does not comply with their wishes, should remember this fact: that she has a legitimate and democratic mandate bigger than anyone who would like to unseat her.