UK Politics

McDonnell will not intervene in Benn 'deselection bid'

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Media captionMcDonnell on deselection threat to Hilary Benn: "We can't interfere in local democracy".

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said he "can't interfere" in local party democracy amid reports that Hilary Benn is facing deselection.

"Labour leadership doesn't involve itself in local selections to the local party. That's democracy," he said.

It comes amid reports of a "takeover" of Mr Benn's local party by Jeremy Corbyn-supporting members.

Mr Corbyn sacked Mr Benn as shadow foreign secretary in June, sparking a wave of resignations from his top team.

Government-backed plans to change constituency boundaries and reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600 means dozens of sitting MPs are likely to face a selection battle.

'Friend of mine'

Mr Benn, MP for Leeds Central and now chairman of the new cross-party select committee set up to scrutinise Brexit, was reported to be "relaxed" about changes to his local constituency party at a recent annual meeting.

But the Sunday Times quoted the leader of a campaign to get pro-Corbyn activists onto positions in the local party, as saying there were "quite a few people" who would vote to oust Mr Benn over the resignations.

He is also unpopular with many supporters of Mr Corbyn after arguing against him in support of UK involvement in air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.

Asked about the reports on BBC Radio 5live's Pienaar's Politics, Mr McDonnell said: "Hilary is a friend of mine and makes a major contribution to the party."

But asked if he would tell local activists to "back off", he said: "The whole point of democracy in our party is we've said we're not in favour of mandatory reselection. The boundary changes we're opposing... and we're hoping the government will start listening on that.

"But where there are, because of boundary changes, reselection - that's dealt with at the local level."

He added that Mr Benn had "a fantastic role to play" and he hoped "he continues to play a role in our party at whatever level", but added: "We can't interfere in local democracy in our party. We're a democratic party."

'Frightened'

Mr Benn's departure from Labour's front bench after the referendum was followed by dozens of resignations, with many of those quitting criticising Mr Corbyn's performance in the EU campaign.

Mr Corbyn went on to lose a no-confidence vote by his own MPs by 172 to 40, and faced a leadership challenge. But he was comfortably re-elected leader in September thanks to his popularity with party members.

Labour MP Pat Glass has introduced a private member's bill aiming to stop plans to cut the number of constituencies, arguing it could break the MP-constituency link by making seats bigger.

But Conservative MP David Nuttall suggested Labour MPs opposed moves to change constituency boundaries on the grounds they were "frightened of reselection because of the threat of [pro-Corbyn campaign group] Momentum taking their seats".

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