Labour has suspended the party’s controversial trigger ballots process, which could depose sitting MPs, after the party committed to supporting a general election.
The move comes as the party’s national executive committee prepares for a key meeting this week. Members of the body will decide whether all sitting MPs, including NEC member Keith Vaz and leftwing campaigner Chris Williamson, will be able to stand in the forthcoming vote.
The meeting follows Labour’s decision on Tuesday to back a general election at the fourth time of asking after Jeremy Corbyn won out against the reticence of shadow cabinet colleagues to go to the polls in December.
After ordering his MPs to abstain on Monday, when the prime minister sought to trigger a December election, Corbyn was applauded by his shadow cabinet as he gave a televised statement on Tuesday saying he was ready to campaign across the country.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to going to every part of the country with my wonderful shadow cabinet team here and all the fantastic Labour activists to give a message of hope where there isn’t one with this government,” he said.
A separate meeting of NEC officers on Tuesday decided to stop the trigger ballot process for the MPs Virendra Sharma, Emma Lewell-Buck, Kate Osamor and Roger Godsiff. A memo sent to party members said: “All trigger ballots will be paused with immediate effect.”
The Guardian understands some NEC members will call for Godsiff, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green who recently sided with protesters opposing LGBT-inclusive education in primary schools, to be ejected from the candidates list.
MPs Margaret Hodge and Diana Johnson successfully fought off attempts this week to force them to stand down as Labour candidates.
The trigger ballot process has faced concerns that five of the six MPs who have been “triggered” so far are either women, or BAME, or both.
Liz McInnes, the shadow foreign minister, has written to the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, asking for an equality impact assessment of the way that sitting MPs have been challenged. She said: “Effectively the trigger process has become a bullies’ charter with grudges held by certain members clearly being exercised against the sitting MP and with more chance of success now that the threshold has been lowered.”
The NEC meeting will have to decide whether Vaz will be endorsed as a candidate in his Leicester East constituency after a damning ruling by the parliament’s standards committee.
On Monday, MPs recommended that he be suspended for six months for offering to buy sex workers cocaine and failing to cooperate with an official inquiry. One party source said there would be “an almighty row” if there was a move to remove Vaz from the list without offering him another role.
The committee will also decide if three suspended MPs – Williamson (Derby North), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) and Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) – can stand again. One party insider said it was “highly unlikely” they would be given the green light to represent the party.
Corbyn was said by colleagues to have appeared as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders after the shadow cabinet rubber-stamped the decision to support a pre-Christmas election.
On Thursday, Labour whips had sent out an email suggesting its MPs would abstain on Monday’s motion seeking to call an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, while Corbyn was still holed up with close colleagues, discussing how to proceed. Party sources subsequently said no firm decision would be made until after the weekend, and the whips’ email had been a holding position.
Corbyn continued to insist he was waiting for the threat of a no-deal Brexit to be taken off the table. He told the shadow cabinet on Tuesday that condition had finally been met now the EU27 had approved a three-month extension to Brexit.
Several of those shadow ministers closest to Corbyn, including Diane Abbott, Dan Carden and Jon Trickett, had been vocal in their support of an early poll, but others, including the chief whip, Nick Brown, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were more reticent.
The deputy leader, Tom Watson, had suggested he would like to see a referendum held before any general election, while other Labour MPs had hoped the government would allow MPs to continue debating Johnson’s Brexit deal.
But once the SNP and Liberal Democrats banded together to propose their own bill, setting 9 December as polling day in a bid to rule out the return of the withdrawal agreement bill, Labour were boxed in.
“For Jeremy, it’s a bit ‘shit or bust’,” said one senior colleague. “His personal future is tied up completely with what happens in the next five or six weeks.” However, another frontbench ally enthused: “Jeremy could be prime minister by Christmas!”