The Labour MPs Keir Starmer doesn't want voters talking about

Faiza Shaheen and Lloyd Russell-Moyle have not been reselected by Labour as questions remain over wether Diane Abbott will be barred from standing

WORCESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 29: Labour leader Keir Starmer attends a campaign event with Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting (not pictured) at Three Counties Medical School on May 29, 2024 in Worcester, United Kingdom. The Labour leader and Shadow Health Secretary met with patients who are stuck on waiting lists for treatments, and unveiled Labour vision to reduce NHS backlogs by performing two million extra operations, scans, and appointments in the first year.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer has been accused of a ’left-wing purge’ of Labour MPs. (Getty)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing the first significant wobble of his general election campaign with a row over the party's left-wing candidates.

Veteran MP Diane Abbott kicked off a row on Wednesday when she claimed to have been barred from representing Labour in the 4 July poll. Starmer was forced to deny the claims, insisting that “no decision” had yet been made on the final candidate list.

However, on the same day, two more Labour MP hopefuls were told that they would not be representing the party in the election. Both candidates are from the left wing of the party.

Now Starmer has been accused of a “cull” of the left in an attempt to shore up support from traditional Tory voters.

Diane Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but not racism. The whip was restored on Tuesday but Abbott said she was “dismayed” by reports that she could be barred as a candidate for her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat. She has since insisted she wants to stand for re-election for Labour in July.

Abbott has a long history of being on the left of the Labour Party, most famously when she was shadow home secretary for most of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and was seen as one of his closest allies.

As the first Black woman elected to the British Parliament in 1987, she has built up a considerable reputation and is respected by many of her colleagues. She was one of the most outspoken critics of the Iraq War and has often been praised for her speeches.

But her outspokenness has led to many controversial comments over her long career and after the end of Corbyn's leadership it is this that made her contentious for Starmer. She said Starmer should stand down if Labour were to lose the Batley and Spen by-election in 2021 angering many at the top of the party. She also signed a letter in 2022 criticising Nato's "sabre-rattling" over Russia's invasion of Ukraine only to withdraw it a few days later when she was threatened with losing the whip.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was the MP for Brighton Kemptown, said on Wednesday he had been suspended by Labour over what he called a “vexatious and politically motivated complaint” against him, and that he cannot stand under the Labour banner at the election. He said that he received an administrative suspension letter “out of the blue”, adding that it was a false allegation that “I dispute totally and I believe it was designed to disrupt this election”.

Russell-Moyle was an eager supporter of Corbyn during his time as Labour leader and was fervently anti-Brexit. After Starmer won the leadership election, Russell-Moyle was given a shadow cabinet role only for him to resign in July 2020. He said he stood down after a "campaign by the right-wing media" directed at him and his staff made the role "untenable" for him to stay on.

According to Jewish News, in 2021 Russell-Moyle apologised to former party members at Labour Conference who he claimed had been "purged or set up with false allegations" relating to antisemitism. During his speech at the conference, he also said Starmer was "not a politician for the Labour Party."

Lloyd Russell-Moyle has been banned from standing in his seat after a serious complaint was made about him. (PA)
Lloyd Russell-Moyle has been banned from standing in his seat after a serious complaint was made about him. (PA)

Faiza Shaheen was hoping to stand for re-election in the Chingford and Woodford Green seat. However, she has not been endorsed by the party, with reports suggesting she would be suspended by Labour after she allegedly liked a series of posts on X that downplayed antisemitism accusations. She told BBC’s Newsnight that she got an email on Wednesday evening that she said claimed she would “frustrate Labour’s purpose”.

Shaheen has spent most of her life as an academic focusing on economic inequality and joined the Labour Party when Corbyn was elected leader. She was seen as a rising star in the party for many years and increased Labour's vote share in Chingford and Woodford Green in 2019, going against the national trend. .

She had already been selected by the local party for the 2024 election but was rejected by the national party this week. The tweets cited as the reason for her rejection, according to Shaheen, related to liking posts about the Green Party before she joined Labour and one relating to Islamophobia which could be considered antisemitic.

Shaheen has previously defended her record, stating she “criticised the Corbyn leadership for not taking antisemitism seriously enough”. She has also spoken out in defence of what she described as the "demonisation" of Corbyn by a "bias" right-wing media

Starmer has insisted Labour has “changed” following the Corbyn era, which ran on a left-wing manifesto that ultimately led to a historic loss for the party in the 2019 election. Corbyn himself was suspended from Labour in 2020 over his response to the human rights watchdog’s highly critical report on antisemitism in the party during Corbyn’s tenure as leader.

With Labour ahead in the polls, Starmer is hoping to maintain his lead and will want to attract traditional Tory voters. Ridding the party of the more left-wing MPs could be regarded as an attempt to show voters that Labour is not the same party it was in 2019.

However, Labour supporters who sit more on the left of the party are not happy with a “purge” of MPs who align with their values.

Diane Abbott spoke to a rally in her constituency on Wednesday where she said she would not be intimidated. (PA)
Diane Abbott spoke to a rally in her constituency on Wednesday where she said she would not be intimidated. (PA)

Abbott accused Starmer of an “appalling” cull of left-wingers, while Corbyn has suggested Starmer is trying to “purge” the party of left-wingers. Speaking at a rally to launch his independent election campaign, Corbyn added: “The Labour Party ought to be a broad church and any movement that tends to represent the working classes community has to be a broad inclusive church. You don’t achieve anything by driving people out, you achieve things by bringing people in.”

Starmer has denied he is purging the left: "I’ve said repeatedly over the last two years as we’ve selected our candidates that I want the highest-quality candidates. That’s been the position for a very long time.”

When specifically asked about Abbott on Thursday he began heaping praise on her and said no decision had been made about her candidacy. He said: "She was a trailblazer as an MP, she overcame incredible challenges to achieve what she achieved in her political career.

"She carved out a path for others to come into politics and she did all that whilst also being one of the most abused MPs across all political parties. But I’ve always had the aspiration that we will have the best quality candidates as we go into this election."

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also maintained a similar tone on Thursday praising Abbott, saying she saw no "any reason" why she couldn't stand. But she also told the Guardian she does not think the left wing is being "purged." She said the party had a "robust system" for selection that was needed "because when me and Keir took over the party was failing."