Seven right wing MPs quit the Labour Party on Monday, declaring the launch of a new “Independent Group” in parliament.
Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes and Chuka Umunna all abandoned Labour.
They said they hoped to create a new politics—that looks remarkably similar to the old politics. Each MP took it in turns to give their reasons for leaving.
Leslie was angry that Labour’s leaders have not committed to supporting Britain’s continued membership of the single market.
This European Union institution that enforces the pro-market and privatisation rules is something right wing Labour MPs are desperate to maintain.
But for Leslie the big problem was that Labour had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left” under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
This, he complained, had led to Labour opposing austerity. “To them the world divides between oppressor and oppressed, class enemies,” he said. “They’re hostile to business large and small. They make impossible promises which everybody knows in their hearts couldn’t be kept without putting the economy at risk.”
Other MPs were saddened that Labour no longer rushes to war. Gapes—who still champions Tony Blair’s wars in Iraq, Sierra Leone and Kosovo—said Corbyn was “on the wrong side on so many international issues.”
Gapes also described Labour as “a racist, antisemitic party”.
That’s a charge based on the fact Labour’s leadership initially resisted attempts to define describing Israel as a racist state as antisemitic.
Berger claimed that Labour has become “institutionally antisemitic,” and Coffey said—without evidence—that antisemitism in the party is “rife and tolerated”.
Their claims to be anti-racist suffered an embarrassing blow just hours later. Smith appeared to say live on television that racism is “not just about being black or a funny tinge”.
Many of the MPs implied that, under Corbyn, Labour has abandoned the working class.
Smith, Shuker and Umunna spoke in the New Labour language of working class “aspiration”. It’s about helping a few individual working class people become rich.
Under Blair’s New Labour, giving a leg up to “aspirational” working class people was coupled with kicking down at those on benefits.
Umunna finished with a speech that was really about Britain’s deep political crisis and the collapse of the centre ground.
He pitched the Independent Group as an opportunity to build an alternative.
That apparently involves appealing to Tory MPs to join his new group.
“It is time we dumped this country’s old fashioned politics and created an alternative,” he said. “Politics is broken, it doesn’t have to be this way—let’s change it.”
But the crisis is because so many ordinary people have rejected the politics of austerity, war and racism, that Umunna and his co-thinkers want to resurrect.
Don’t make concessions
Jeremy Corbyn replied to the leavers by pointing out that in the 2017 general election “Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few”.
His problem has been that since then he and his allies have softened their message to try and appease the right.
The right wing should have been deselected long ago.
Reacting to news on Sunday that Britain’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe is to move to tax haven Monaco, shadow chancellor John McDonnell could only say he was “really disappointed”.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson used the split to attack Corbyn.
He argued that Labour’s leadership had to pitch right to “address the reasons that good colleagues might want to leave”.
Yet appeasement will only press them to beat Corbyn into making more concessions.
The way to beat the right now is to return to a radical anti-austerity, anti-racist and anti-war message—and struggle against the corrupt system for the rich.