Election 2017

General election: Labour trio ousted for backing rival

Jeremy Hunt
Image caption Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has a majority of more than 28,500 in South West Surrey

Three Labour activists who publicly opposed their own local candidate have been excluded from the party.

The trio were trying to persuade the Surrey SW party to back a candidate from the National Health Action Party against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The group include the local party secretary and a member for 46 years.

After telling the BBC they backed a "progressive alliance", a Labour spokesman said: "These individuals are no longer members of the Labour Party."

The three are Kate Townsend, secretary of the South West Surrey Labour Party, executive member Steve Williams, and Robert Park.

The trio believed National Health Action Party candidate Louise Irvine had a better chance of beating Mr Hunt in the seat than Labour's official candidate, David Black.

The Labour Party nationally has said it will have nothing to do with so-called "progressive alliances", which sees other parties standing aside to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote.

But Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas has urged left and centre-left parties to get together to prevent "a massive Tory landslide".

Banding together

Senior Lib Dems Sir Vince Cable and Sarah Olney were recorded suggesting their support for a Labour candidate - but leader Tim Farron slapped down the move, insisting there would be "no deal, no pacts, no coalitions".

Theresa May, meanwhile, has repeatedly warned that a vote for any party other than the Conservatives would be for a "weak and failing Jeremy Corbyn propped up by a coalition of chaos".

In SW Surrey, Kate Townsend told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday that it had been a difficult decision to back a rival candidate.

"It's not easy to not support Labour and it really is a hard decision to have to make, but what sort of long-term damage can we do in South West Surrey that doesn't already exist?" she said.

"We never win - we've never got any hope of winning - so we might as well fight to make it so that next time we vote, my vote actually matters."

Mr Williams added: "I've no doubt whatsoever that the majority of local Labour Party members in South West Surrey in the next election will be supporting Louise Irvine and people will be knocking on doors."

Announcing his suspension on Twitter, he said: "Expelled from Labour Party after 46 years of continuous membership for trying to unseat Jeremy Hunt. When will Labour get the wake-up call?"

Five-year ban

Susan Ryland, the Greens' candidate for SW Surrey in 2015, said her party would not be fielding a candidate this time. "There's a clear consensus amongst campaigners in South West Surrey to stand a single progressive candidate against Jeremy Hunt.

"I'm pleased to announce that the local Green Party will be stepping aside and throwing our support behind Dr Louise Irvine."

But UKIP candidate Mark Webber said Mr Hunt's "massive" 28,500 majority is unassailable by the progressive alliance. "The left simply don't have much traction at all in that part of the country, even if they band together."

Labour said that under its rules, "a member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.I.2 of the disciplinary rules".

Following expulsion, the trio will also be ineligible to be readmitted to the party for at least five years, a spokesman said.

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