Seven right-wing Labour MPs quit on Monday 18 February. They did not join another party or form a new one. They did not call on their rank-and-file supporters within Labour to quit.
Two Tory MPs sceptical about Brexit, Nick Boles and Sarah Wollaston, face deselection by their local Tory parties in coming weeks, and a Government minister has openly said that the hard-right Tory MPs “are not Conservatives” and should join the new “Brexit party” being launched by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
The seven have chosen the bland name “Independent Group” for themselves, surely to maximise their chances of attracting dissident Tories. They may also have other right-wing Labour MPs lined up to join them, and planning to do so over time so as to create a show of progress.
The immediate political effect of the split will only be to help the Tories, and its longer-term course can only be towards allying with or joining the Lib-Dems.
The (right-wing) chair of the constituency Labour Party in Chuka Umunna's Streatham responded: “Streatham voted overwhelmingly for a Labour MP in 2017 and will continue to want a Labour MP. I am... asking [Umunna] to immediately call a by-election, to allow the people of Streatham to have their say”.
The seven have picked up on real issues. The Labour Party has not got to grips with left antisemitism. Labour has failed to be clear in opposing Brexit.
There are more fundamental reasons why the seven quit.
Most of the seven came into politics as “New Labour”. (The exception is Mike Gapes, from a background as an old-style Labour Stalinist). Their tutor was Tony Blair. His aim was to systematically reduce the voice of the trade unions and the working class within Labour.
They see themselves as “the professionals” in politics. Principles to them are secondary. They want jobs in politics. And the job market within Labour does not look good for them with new parliamentary selections.
One effect of the split is that it speeds the process of the internationalist left in the Labour Party becoming the main banner-carrier of resistance to Brexit and to antisemitic taints in the labour movement, rather than the neoliberal right. We have relocated anti-Brexitism in working-class and democratic concerns, rather than in the business globalisation of Blair.
Those who try to reduce the argument over Brexit to one of “are you for Jeremy or for Blair?” will need to find some better arguments.
Dismay in Wavertree
Proposing votes of no confidence in a sitting MP is a great way of improving attendance at constituency meetings.
Liverpool Wavertree CLP usually has just under 60 members out of 1,700 at its monthly all members meetings, but on Thursday 14 February attendance increased fourfold.
The enlarged turnout was a consequence of the furore over two no-confidence motions submitted against Labour MP Luciana Berger, but subsequently withdrawn under heavy pressure from the Labour Party national HQ. Here was an MP who’d been subject to vile antisemitic abuse from fascists and others. She was also highly critical of many aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and policies, from a rightwing angle: she has now left the Labour Party.
Every Labour Party has the right to table no-confidence motions if it disagrees with the stance its MP is taking, but the ground was cut under the movers when a glance at the Facebook page of one of them, Ken Campbell, revealed it contained posts promoting “Zionist” conspiracy theories. Campbell turned up at the CLP meeting proudly brandishing a letter informing him he was subject to investigation as if it were something to be proud of.
At the meeting proper, two “emergency” motions were presented — one criticising the local party executive for allowing the no-confidence motions, and another defending their actions. By a majority vote it was decided not to debate the issue. Interestingly enough the “right wing” and the “hard left” — both inaccurate labels — voted together to have the debate but lost by about 20 votes.
When Solidarity talked to some open-minded people on the left of the Wavertree party, they expressed dismay that the regular monthly meetings were not representative of the mass membership of the party, with very few present below the age of 50. At the January meeting, a new public vote on Brexit had been voted down. A previous resolution rejected a two states solution to the Israel/Palestine question. Such outcomes reflect the influence of a rotten political bloc between supporters of Socialist Appeal and Lexiters. They are totally uncritical of Corbyn and quite happy to see calls for a people’s vote on Brexit rejected despite nearly 90% of party members supporting it. It is hoped that future meetings of the Wavertree Party will be better attended and give a fairer representation of opinions of the majority of party members.