Frank Field may trigger by-election


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Media captionFrank Field says Labour should be a ‘champion against racism’

Veteran MP Frank Field has said he is considering triggering a by-election in his Birkenhead constituency.

He has quit the Labour whip over the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations but wants to continue sitting as an “independent Labour” MP.

He also attacked the “culture of nastiness” in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Mr Corbyn’s supporters said he had quit because he was facing de-selection by local party members in Birkenhead.

He recently lost a vote of confidence organised by members angry at his support for the government in Brexit votes.

Mr Field, who has represented the Merseyside seat since 1979 and won in 2017 with a majority of 25,514, has faced previous efforts to de-select him. He denied he had “jumped before he was pushed” and said he intended to fight the next general election as an independent Labour candidate.

He told BBC Breakfast he would spend the “next few days” deciding whether to stand down as an MP to trigger a by-election, in which he would stand against an official Labour candidate.

“I will obviously make a decision about whether I should actually have a by-election or not… I will be in Birkenhead, people will be talking to me, coming up to me in the street to see whether they want me to have a by-election or not”.


By Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

Frank Field’s decision to resign the Labour whip once again exposes the divisions at the heart of the Labour Party.

Contrast the reaction of Jeremy Corbyn with his deputy Tom Watson.

In a 12-word, one-sentence reaction, Mr Corbyn did not devote a single syllable to expressing regret at Mr Field’s departure.

Mr Watson described Mr Field’s announcement as a “serious loss” which reflected “deep divisions,” a “sense of drift” and should act as a “major wake-up call.”

And now Frank Field is entertaining the idea of a by-election.

Imagine that: the man who has represented Birkenhead for nearly 40 years, versus the Labour Party.

Labour’s divisions would be crystallised in one contest, visible to everyone, not just on Merseyside, but much further afield as well.

Mr Field quit the party’s parliamentary group through a letter to chief whip Nick Brown on Thursday, saying the leadership was becoming “a force for anti-Semitism in British politics”.

A Labour Party spokesman has thanked Mr Field for his service to Labour, but the veteran MP told the BBC he had been thanked “as if I was resigning from a whist club”, noting he had been in the party longer than leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The MP also blamed a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in local Labour parties telling the BBC: “I do think that it’s sad how the party following his election has really been taken over by the hard left.

“The campaign that Jewish people feel against them by factions of the Labour Party is all part of the intolerance which we also see at a local level.”

‘Simply crazy’

He said he would like to fight the next general election as the official Labour candidate, under Jeremy Corbyn, but wanted to put pressure on the leadership to change the way it has been responding to such complaints.

“It is not true [to say] I’m a constant critic of Jeremy,” said Mr Field.

“The idea this is part of a plot or anything else is simply crazy. It is because I think he will lead us into the next election that I think these issues are urgent.”

A Labour source said “Frank has been looking for an excuse to resign for some time” and, under party rules, he could not resign as a Labour MP and continue to be a member of the party.

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Media captionBirkenhead voters react to local MP Frank Field’s decision to resign the Labour whip

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson described the resignation of Mr Field as a “serious loss to the party” and a “major wake up call”.

Labour backbencher John Mann – who also defied the party whip to back the government in Brexit votes and who has been a fierce critic of the leadership’s stance on anti-Semitism – said Mr Corbyn should persuade Mr Field to return to the parliamentary party.

And, he added, the Labour leader should announce that all Jewish Labour MPs would be automatically re-selected to fight the next general election “to take this harassment of them off the agenda”.

He said he would remain in the party to “fight to the last” but added: “If this isn’t sorted, I predict others will go”.

But backbench MP Chris Williamson, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, told BBC Newsnight: “He (Mr Field) has obviously lost the confidence of his members and he’s now getting his excuses in, it seems to me, and throwing around grotesque slurs, which have no basis in reality.

“The party has taken the issue of anti-Semitism very seriously; far more seriously than any other political party.

“It’s so sad to see someone like Frank Field trashing Labour’s anti-racist record”.

Labour has been dealing with a row about the extent of anti-Semitism within the party for more than two years.

A 2016 inquiry, carried out by Shami Chakrabarti, concluded that while the Labour Party was not overrun by anti-Semitism, there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”.

Recently, the focus has been on a new code of conduct the party has adopted on anti-Semitism, with critics concerned that it does not go as far as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s guidelines.

Next Tuesday, Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee is expected to decide whether to adopt the IHRA guidelines in full, with the Parliamentary Labour Party due to be balloted on adopting the complete IHRA document, the day after.

Earlier this month, Mr Corbyn again apologised for hurt caused to Jewish people by anti-Semitism in his party and admitted Labour had been too slow in dealing with disciplinary cases.

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