In early 2023, it was announced that former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would not be allowed to stand as a candidate for the party. Although the most high-profile deselection of an MP in the 21st century, he is far from the only individual to face rejection from his constituency party.
Although not technically a deselection, a vote of 22-12 by the National Executive Committee means Corbyn is unable to stand as a Labour candidate at the next election.
In 2020, new Labour leader Keir Starmer suspended the man who had been leader less than 12 months earlier after a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission ruled that the Labour leadership’s response to tackling anti-Semitism was “insufficient” and “inexcusable.” The Islington North MP stated the report’s details were “dramatically overstated for political reasons.”
Corbyn had been a Labour MP since 1983 and a member for 55 years.
Since taking the reins from Corbyn, Starmer has worked hard to scrub away the image created by his predecessor, with the 2023 blocking of the staunch socialist one of the biggest steps in his attempt to make himself a tempting electoral choice.
Corbyn retorted that Starmer had “launched an assault on the rights of his own Labour members,” adding, “I have spent my life fighting for a fairer society on behalf of the people of Islington North, and I have no intention of stopping now.”
Many left-wing MPs, such as Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Nadia Whittome, and the Momentum movement all condemned the move as anti-democratic and divisionary.
Corbyn is not the only one blocked from standing, with Labour MPs Sam Tarry and Mick Whitley receiving deselection, the first Labour MPs to be rejected since 2010.
There is still speculation as to Corbyn’s next move, whether he stands for re-election or a rumoured run for London Mayor.
Under new boundary reviews, Damien Green’s Ashford seat in Kent was to undergo notable changes. In light of the proposals, Green attempted to be chosen as the Tory candidate for the newly-established seat of Weald of Kent in early 2023.
However, Green was rejected in his efforts to be nominated for the seat, stating he was “disappointed” at the decision. Katie lam was instead chosen in August.
It was quite a surprise for a Conservative of as high a standing as Green to face deselection. Green has been a Tory MP since 1997 and served as the First Secretary of State under Theresa May, making him her de facto deputy. He still wields influence today as the chairman of the 100-member-strong One Nation Conservative parliamentary caucus.
It has been theorised that the move is part of a targetted operation to take down those involved in the fall of the Boris Johnson administration. David Campbell-Bannerman, chairman of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, has remarked: “There is now hard evidence MPs allegedly associated with bringing down Boris are being directly held to account and punished by members.”
Although never a figure in frontline politics, the career of S.O. Davies is nonetheless a fascinating one.
The former Vice-President of the South Wales Miners’ Federation, he first entered Parliament in 1934. Throughout his parliamentary lifetime, he was an outspoken Labour rebel, losing the whip on three occasions between 1953 and 1961 and opposing the party on a matter of subjects such as Welsh self-rule and EEC membership.
In 1970, Davies – now in his 80s – was the subject of deselection by the Merthyr Tydfil Labour Party, even if he had broad support in the constituency, earning 75% of the vote in the 1966 election.
In protest, Davies barked: “Let the people of Merthyr decide whether they want S. O. or not. I have been the member for 36 years and I’ve always made Merthyr my absolute priority.”
Shortly after being elected, prime minister Harold Wilson called an election, in which the popular Davies ran as an independent. On a wave of grassroots momentum, Davies convincingly trounced the Labour candidate by 7,000 votes in a rare success story for an Independent MP.
He would serve in Parliament until 1972, when he died at an unknown age, speculated by some to be over 90 years old.
Sir Anthony Meyer
Career backbencher Sir Anthony Meyer’s claim to fame was being the man who stood up and challenged Margaret Thatcher in 1989, exposing the rising opposition to “The Iron Lady” from within her own party.
After a stint at the Foreign Office, Meyer was elected an MP in 1964. One of the very few Tory gains that year, he picked up the seat by just 11 votes.
During his time in parliament, he gained a reputation as being on the party’s liberal wing, finding re-selection an impossible task.
Back in the chamber again, he became a critic of Margaret Thatcher, calling the poll tax a “disaster.” He often stood out by voting with Labour, with his anti-war views on the Falklands in the early 80s arguably even more left-wing than Michael Foot!
An ardent Europhile, he took the suicidal career move in 1989 to stand against the prime minister. Although standing zero chance of toppling the premier, it blew a hole in her authority, showing discontent within the party. In the wake of Meyer’s attacks, Geoffrey Howe was able to deliver his cutting resignation and Michael Heseltine able to commit his coup; within a year, her time was over.
In January 1990, just a month later, he was subject of deselection by his local party, with the Clwyd North West party voting 2-1 to remove him due to his “treachery” towards the party. He continued to work for the European clause after Parliament, later defecting to the Liberal Democrats.
In 2007, Bob Wareing, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby since 1983, was deselected by his local parliamentary party. (Ironically, in 1983, he succeeded MP Eric Ogden, who himself had been deselected by his own constituency party.)
A member of the Socialist Campaign Group, he had been a long-time critic of the New Labour ministry. This included on issues such as tuition fees and anti-terrorism measures.
He was notably outspoken about the Iraq War, the previous year to his deselection, voting for an inquiry into the conflict. Supporting the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru motion, he voted in line with the most prominent anti-war rebels such as Jeremy Corbyn, Glenda Jackson, and Bob Marshall-Andrews.
He too was condemnatory of prime minister Tony Blair personally, referring to him as the Mussolini to George Bush’s Hitler in regards to the invasion of the Iraq War. After the Labour Party’s strong three-digit majority shriveled in the 2005 election, Wareing remarked: “I think the chickens are coming home to roost for Blair. I am hoping the succession will happen as soon as possible.”
Once passed up, Wareing referred to the loss of his constituency’s party’s support the work of a “New Labour Mafia.” Chosen in his place was Stephen Twigg, a former Labour minister and the man who famously unseated Michael Portillo in 1997; Twigg has been described by The Liverpool Echo as a “New Labour poster boy.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Labour Party underwent furor as cracks widened between the different wings of the party, with the militant left wielding great authority. Even prior to Michael Foot’s takeover, this was blamed for deselections, including one Labour minister who soon defected to the Tories.
During Harold Wilson’s administration, Reg Prentice had various ministerial positions, such as minister at Education and Science, Minister of Public Buildings and Works, and Minister for Overseas Development.
Prentice spoke out against his deselection, which he saw as the work of Trotskyites who had infiltrated the constituency party. He had supported the Conservative government’s decision to prosecute the picketing Shrewsbury 24, even if he himself had previously been a member of the Transport and General Workers (TGWU) Union.
Prime minister Harold Wilson too chastised the decision whilst future Conservative MP Julian Lewis worked clandestinely to fight the ruling.
Prentice had seen broad support from both his party and the electorate previously, winning over 50% of the vote in every election contested since winning the Newham North East seat in 1957 and won the 1972 Shadow Cabinet elections, serving in Cabinet until 1976.
Despite this, 180 MPs, including half of the Cabinet, reportedly wrote to the local party telling them to give Prentice the ultimatum to step down or lose their support.
According to Tony Benn’s diaries, he discussed defecting to the Conservative Party to Michael Heseltine whilst still in Labour Cabinet. In 1977, he switched to the Tories, calling out Labour’s “growing emphasis on class war and Marxist dogma.”
Under Thatcher, he became Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Security 1979-1981. The Guardian have described him as “the highest-ranking Labour figure ever to defect to the Conservative party.”
Throughout the 1970s, a number of right-wing Labour MPs were scrubbed away by their local party associations. Dick Taverne felt the heat of supporting British entry into the European Economic Community whilst Frank Tomney’s illiberal views on homosexuality and race, leading one former party official to comment: “some of his policies would have gone down well in the National Front.” Another, Edward Griffiths, chose to support the Conservatives in the next election.