So it finally happened. After all the talk, it’s shit or get off the pot time. In this case the pot is the Labour Party and 7 MPs have decided to shit on it or get off it. At this point the metaphor breaks down.
To tell the truth, I’m not sad, surprised or angry. Some MPs have clearly been apoplectic with rage since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader. This is partly because he changed the party’s direction and partly because his election stopped the rise of some MPs through the party’s ranks.
As a socialist, I want a left-wing Labour Party that will raise taxes on the rich, stop NHS privatisation, nationalise the railways, spend more on benefits and build more council houses. If some centrist MPs don’t want this and would prefer to be in a party that Alan Sugar wants to belong to, then I can show them where the exit is.
I wish Chuka Umunna and his pals all the best for his future. There’s no need to yell traitor or splitter or turn into the Judean People’s Front over this. I hope this will be an amicable break up. A conscious uncoupling. The electorate will settle this, one way or the other.
It’s too early to tell what will happen. Will this be an SDP version two? Something more? Or as much of a wet fish as when two Conservative MPs defected to UKIP and promptly lost their seats? The SDP managed to get 35 MPs to come with them over a period of months, and the number of MPs that join this Independent Group will depend on how many current Labour MPs feel threatened by deselection. That will all depend on how the Labour leadership handles this.
The odds aren’t good that this break away will work. The First Past The Post electoral system means even if the Independent Group get lots of votes, it might not translate into many seats. The SDP won 7,780,949 votes to Labour’s 8,456,934 in 1983 and ended up with 23 seats against Labour’s 209. The SDP also had two years to prepare for an election. If Brexit causes an election in March, will this new party, that doesn’t have a name yet, be ready for it?
Have they thought through all the implications of this break away? For example, what policy platform will they stand on? I guess it will be anti-Brexit, but Umunna, for example, has made comments about immigration that are unlikely to appeal to Europhiles. Will they be pro-austerity? What will their position on gender recognition be? I don’t think there is a huge constituency for a socially liberal, economically neo-liberal party. Outside the few people who read the Economist, but also think that Apu in the Simpsons is problematic.
Another question is: will they join with other Labour castaways? Will they admit the pro-Brexit Frank Field? Or John Woodcock who is accused of sexual harassment? Or Jared O’Mara who is accused of making misogynist and homophonic comments?
Will they join up with the Lib Dems? As Umunna and friends weren’t happy in Corbyn’s choir, will they want to be backing singers for Vince Cable? Why would Cable, who already runs a party, want to play second fiddle in Chuka Umunna’s Tony Blair cover band? The sort of person who launched a new party, rather than standing for Labour leader, doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who would stand quietly at the back while someone else set the tune.
There’s also the fact that this new party managed to launch with a broken website, so I’m not putting much faith in their organisation skills. There was a brief time when users could choose to agree or do nothing to the suggested principles on the Independent Group’s website. As there was no submit button on page, that error didn’t matter anyway. Then there was Angela Smith describing BAME people as “a funny tinge”.
I don’t doubt that their objections to Corbyn and the direction he has taken Labour in are genuine. I’m sure they see Corbyn’s economic and foreign policy as bad tactically and not in the UK’s interest. I don’t doubt that these MPs are opposed to anti-semitism in Labour either, something Corbyn clearly has a blind spot on. However, you can’t dismiss that disliking the left, and being unable stand the fact that we are in charge, were a factor in the split.
As they’re unlikely to win power, a vote for this Independent Group will only be a protest vote at best. Corbyn has a serious chance of winning the PM and stopping the damage the Tories are doing. This is ironic for a group who called Corbyn’s Labour a protest vote.
Personally, after sticking with the party through Blair’s embrace of Thatcherism, the Iraq War, and everything else, I can’t help but felt let down that they couldn’t handle a few years under Corbyn. I guess they felt that even if Corbyn went, Labour members were too stupid to embrace Umunna and Co’s clearly superior ideas so they have to go directly to the electorate. Again, I wish them well with this. We’ll see how it all pans out.
The most likely outcome of this is splitting the left vote and helping the Tories stay in power. Some people will think that is an acceptable cost to stop Corbyn becoming prime minister. I guess we’ll see how many people really want a government that isn’t Labour, Tory or Lib Dem, far-left or far-right.
I wouldn’t split Labour to stop another Blaire becoming Prime Minister, as much as my views are to the left of his. The worst Labour government is preferable to the best Tory government. What this shows is that some Labour MPs believe that there are some Tory governments that are preferable to some Labour governments. If you believe that, then maybe you shouldn’t be in the Labour Party. So best of luck to them.