Labour MP who has ‘prioritised Palestine’ facing possible reselection battle

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Labour MP who has ‘prioritised Palestine’ facing possible reselection battle

Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum faces uncertain future as local party members claim she overlooks issues around cost of living crisis for 'foreign policy concerns'.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Apsana Begum addressing the vote count (credit: Delfina Mocorrea and Melina Havoutis / YouTube)
Apsana Begum addressing the vote count (credit: Delfina Mocorrea and Melina Havoutis / YouTube)

A Labour MP criticised by local party members for placing “foreign policy concerns” above post-pandemic recovery and the cost of living crisis faces the prospect re-selection to stand as the local candidate at the next general election.

Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, is under increasing pressure  after local members voted in favour of a selection process taking place at four out of the five meetings held so far.

Some local members have complained that she has prioritised foreign policy issues such as the Palestinian cause over domestic problems resulting from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis during her time as an MP in the East London seat.

Begum’s official website has continued to list Palestine has her top activity, with Covid 19 listed as her fourth priority issue, despite continued problems for the local electorate as a result of the pandemic.

Another local member claimed the MP had held “irregular surgeries” for local voters, leading to suggestions she was not easy to contact over problems arising in the community.

MP’s official website lists Palestine as her top activity

Ahead of selection in 2019, it emerged that party bosses under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership had investigated social media posts shared by Begum, including one accusing Tony Blair of spreading “Zionist propaganda” and another post claiming Saudi Arabia’s leaders were “inspired by Zionist masters”.

In the midst of mounting opposition to Begum standing as a candidate at the next general election, one local Labour member told Jewish News this week: “We need a strong community leader as our local MP. There are big issues to contend with in Poplar and Limehouse, not least with the impact of the cost of living crisis and that of the pandemic. We can’t have someone more concerned with foreign policy than the welfare of local constituents.”

Another local member said: “There is opposition to Begum both from within the local Bangladeshi community, and from party members aligned to Keir Starmer’s leadership. It will be tough for her to win enough support now to avoid having to face a re-selection battle.”

Jewish News has learned that at so-called trigger ballot meetings in the constituency, local members in the Mile End and Limehouse, Shadwell, Bromley North and Island Gardens branches all voted in favour of a selection process.

The Whitechapel branch voted in favour selections on Monday night.

A sixth meeting in the Poplar and Lansbury branch was declared a tied result. Four more branches are still to vote, but the majority of these are not believed to be branches in which Begum enjoys strong support.

Under Labour Party rules if more than 50 percent of local party branches vote indicate they want a selection to take place, and if 50 percent of affiliated groups, such as trade unions, do likewise, then a selection goes ahead.

But the following the first six local meetings, Begum’s supporters, including Labour MPs such as John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, have raised allegations of bullying and harassment taking place.

But it is understood that all meetings have been closely supervised by observers approved by Labour’s regional head office in London.

A Labour spokesperson confirmed on Monday: “The party takes all complaints seriously and will investigate accordingly.”

Three further meetings in which members will vote whether to force a selection process are to go ahead this week.

Begum, an ally of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, had ironically made her stance in favour of “mandatory reselections” a focal point of her initial campaign to be selected as the local candidate ahead of the 2019 election.

In a statement, which is still up on her website, Begum wrote: “I sincerely hope that local party members will be given the opportunity to decide their representative through a full and open selection process.”

She added that “if selected” she would “work to ensure an open selection process in Poplar and Limehouse and beyond in the next term of Parliament.”

One local party member admitted: “It is somewhat ironic to hear our MP and her supporters complaining about the possibility of an open selection process involving her.

“Where was the left screaming out when local members voted to trigger Margaret Hodge at the height of Corbyn’s leadership?”

After she was criticised for sharing social media posts on Saudi Arabia and its alleged “Zionist masters”, Begum said: “I didn’t make those comments and I shared the article because I was concerned with the treatment of pilgrims who were being harassed in the Mecca Grand Mosque.

“The original poster used words that were inappropriate, and I wouldn’t use them myself. I’m committed to fighting antisemitism both inside the Labour Party and in wider society.”

Begum’s official website includes numerous statements on Palestine

Jewish News has contacted Begum for comment over moves by local party members to force a selection process for the local Labour candidate ahead of the next election.

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