Rosie Winterton, the shadow chief whip, has attempted to calm the nerves of Labour MPs, reassuring them all that a move to deselect them is not on the cards. She wrote a letter telling them that she, not the leader’s office, is in charge of reselections if the boundary review gets actioned (which, unless World War III breaks out before 2018, will go ahead) and that the whole thing was governed by rules already set out by the NEC.
However, this is unlikely to cool the concerns of the PLP for two good reasons. Reason one is that Corbyn essentially announced reselection as part of his re-election as leader pitch. He said there would be an “open selection process” in every seat, adding that every Labour MP should “get behind the party”. This is not the current method agreed by the NEC; Corbyn is basically saying he would lobby the NEC to change the rules.
An addendum to all of this is that Unite wants mandatory reselections of all sitting Labour MPs every five years. So the threat is very much real, whatever the shadow chief whip says.
Reason two for the PLP to be sweating about all this is that the shadow front bench has gone through immense changes of late, so the idea that Winterton’s job is completely secure is a nonsense. Having whizzed through most of the parliamentary party to fill the front benches, why wouldn’t he just replace the whip if she wasn’t doing what he wanted? And to be fair to Corbyn, a leader replacing the chief whip if they weren’t doing as the leader wanted would be completely understandable given a chief whip’s job is to assure that the leader’s wishes are carried out across the parliamentary party. Thus Corbyn would be well within his rights to sack Winterton and get someone else in who will play ball by his rules.
All of this – like everything happening within Labour at present – doesn’t look to end well. For anyone but the Conservative Party, just to be clear. I watch with interest. In the meantime, Vive La Bande de Cent Soixante-Douze.