Harriet Harman’s bid to become Speaker of the House of Commons could be derailed after her local Labour party signalled it may stand a candidate against her in the general election.
Camberwell and Peckham constituency party voted on Thursday to urge the former cabinet minister to withdraw her name from the Speaker race amid concerns the seat would be left without a Labour MP if she won.
Harman hit back at her critics on Friday, stating her commitment to her local constituents will be undiminished, adding: “I will not back down!”
And in a crucial intervention, HuffPost understands that the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is unlikely to endorse any rival in Camberwell as it has a long-standing commitment not to run candidates against the Speaker.
Jeremy Corbyn underlined the point in an ITV News interview on Friday in which he said: “The tradition is that the Speaker is unopposed by other parties.”
As politically neutral chairs of the Commons, Speakers cannot represent any party and are required to run effectively as independents during a general election.
But Harman’s critics, led by a left-wing barrister who was once refused entry to Labour after standing against her in the 2015 election, passed by 26 votes to 22 a motion asking her to pull out of the contest.
There was an initial tie of 21 votes to 21 votes but a recount produced a clear result, HuffPost has been told.
The motion also states the local party “wants to stand a parliamentary candidate at the next general election”, a clear warning that the former Labour deputy leader could face a rival who could deny her the chance to remain an MP.
The motion by Nick Wrack, who was readmitted to Labour after standing against Harman for the left-wing TUSC party four years ago, cites the precedent of Tories warning they would stand a candidate against John Bercow if he stayed on.
It also made clear that no Labour MP should attempt to become Commons Speaker because to do so would reduce the party’s representation.
“Whatever the outcome of the general election, Labour will need the largest and strongest presence possible in the House of Commons to support the Labour manifesto, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and radical socialist policies,” it states.
However, traditionally Speakers and their three deputies cancel each other out politically with two being former Labour and two former Tory members.
“The absence of a Labour MP will deprive one of the most deprived constituencies in the UK of much-needed Labour representation in parliament,” the motion states.
“The meeting agrees that Camberwell and Peckham CLP does not support Harriet Harman in her endeavour to become Speaker and calls on her to withdraw from the contest.”
In a string of tweets on Friday, Harman hit back.
“I’ll always be there for the people of Camberwell & Peckham as I have throughout the last 37 years. I have pledged that my commitment to them will be unshakable if I become Speaker.”
The overwhelming majority of members of Camberwell & Peckham Labour Party understand the importance of a strong & fair Speaker & support me in this bid. (3/4)— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) September 20, 2019
But Wrack told HuffPost: “I think many local members would want the opportunity to seek to replace Harriet Harman with an MP who better reflects support for left-wing socialist policies and the direction the party has taken under Jeremy Corbyn.
“Any suggestion that the motion was motivated or supported due to any misogynism or having a ‘problem with women’ is absurd and completely without foundation. The motion was seconded by a woman, some women members spoke in favour of the motion and other women members voted in support of it.”
The seat has a 37,000 Labour majority and is one of the safest in the country, but Harman’s local party has seen an influx of Jeremy Corbyn supporters since his election as leader.
One local source said Harman “has done sweet FA to counter the rise of the Left locally, just seems to assume she can rise above it all”.
But local party member and former Tony Blair aide John McTernan told HuffPost UK: “The far-left infiltrating the Labour Party clearly have a problem with women.
“The disgraceful attack on Harriet last night sent a message to all women - stay in your lane. But if they think they can stop Harriet being Speaker they are wrong. This is not the first time that men have underestimated her.”
Wrack received 292 votes in 2015 when he stood for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), compared to Harman’s 32,614.
A former editor of the Militant newspaper, he was reportedly expelled from the Socialist Worker Party in 2007 for taking a role in George Galloway’s Respect party.
He became a Labour member in early 2018, having been refused membership in 2016 for his TUSC candidacy the year earlier.
Along with Labour’s Lindsay Hoyle, Harman is one of the favourites in the race to succeed John Bercow as Speaker.
Other Labour contenders include Chris Bryant and Meg Hillier, while the Tory MPs running are Dame Eleanor Laing, Sir Edward Leigh, Sir Henry Bellingham and Shailesh Vara.
HuffPost has approached Harman and Wrack for comment.