MPs resign in biggest Labour split since 1980s

Breakaway: Chris Leslie says that Labour “has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”. © Getty

Seven MPs have dramatically quit the Labour Party in protest against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. They say their new Independent Group is “the first step in leaving the old tribal politics behind”.

“We are leaving the Labour Party to sit as the Independent Group of Members of Parliament.”

Here it is. After months of whispers and plots, the Labour Party has split. Yesterday, seven MPs announced their resignations from Labour in protest against the party leadership, particularly its approach to Brexit and allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.

Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey will remain as MPs and sit in Parliament as the Independent Group.

At a dramatic press conference, Umunna said it is “time we dumped this country’s old-fashioned politics” and that traditional political parties “cannot be the change because they have become the problem”.

Berger, a Jewish woman who has spoken out about facing anti-Semitic abuse, alleged that Labour has become “sickeningly institutionally racist” and said she is leaving behind “a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he is “disappointed” at the news of the historic split.

The Independent Group is not quite a new political party, but an alliance of centrist MPs. The seven will hold their first formal meeting in “a few days” to “assign roles and responsibilities”.

In a mission statement on its website, the Independent Group said Labour is now “hostile to businesses large and small”. It has pledged to “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology”.

All seven MPs supported Remain in the Brexit referendum and now want a people’s vote. A number of figures within Labour have become frustrated with Corbyn’s refusal to back a second vote, despite it being supported by the majority of party members.

This is the first split in Labour since the “gang of four” broke off to form the centrist SDP party in 1981. The SDP performed poorly in elections, split the left-wing vote and dissolved seven years later.

“It basically installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade,” said shadow chancellor John McDonnell yesterday.

Go your own way

Is the Independent Group a good idea? Are the MPs right to stick to their principles and leave a party that no longer represents them, or is it better to reform from the inside, where you can still influence the party? What would you do in their position?

Is our two-party political system coming to an end? As the divisions and infighting in both Labour and the Conservative Party show, the old systems no longer reflect our political landscape and allegiances. What comes next? All political parties have to start somewhere. Could the Independent Group be the shake-up our democracy needs, or will it crash and burn like the SDP?

You Decide

  1. Will the Independent Group be a success?
  2. Were the seven MPs right to leave Labour?

Activities

  1. Come up with your own political party, and give it an original name. Like the statement from the Independent Group in Become An Expert, write at least five bullet points explaining what your party stands for and the direction of its policies.
  2. Class debate time! “This house believes that the UK’s political system is broken.”

Some People Say...

“You don’t join a political party to spend years and years fighting the people within it.”

Chuka Umunna

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The seven MPs who quit Labour will keep their seats as independent MPs, but they have faced pressure to stand down and fight by-elections. Yesterday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, “if you do splinter off and you’re going on another political platform I think you have a responsibility to go back to the electorate then, and in by-elections fight on that platform.”
What do we not know?
Whether any more MPs will follow suit and join the Independent Group. Former Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith has said he is considering his future in the party. There is some speculation that a number of pro-Remain Conservative MPs like Anna Soubry could also join, although the numbers are likely to be small.

Word Watch

Umunna
MP for Streatham and former shadow business secretary. In 2015, he announced a bit for the Labour leadership but withdrew after a few days, saying he was worried about the scrutiny he and his family would come under. He has been very critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s attitude to Brexit.
Berger
Faced a no-confidence motion from her local Labour Party in Liverpool Wavertree earlier this month for her criticism of the Labour leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism in the party. However, the vote was withdrawn when it emerged one of her opponents called her a “disruptive Zionist”, sparking further anger about anti-Semitic abuse.
Centrist
A political outlook that tends to be socially liberal and favours a balance of government control and pro-business and markets policies.
Ideology
Conforming with a set system of political ideas. Corbyn’s critics accuse his inner circle of pursuing a rigid ideology at the cost of balance and the political reality.
Gang of four
A group of four senior Labour moderates who broke away because they opposed leader Michael Foot’s left-wing socialism.