When The Independent Group MPs left, they were in disgust at the state of their own parties. Let us consider the personal toll this must have taken. Many MPs grew up knowing that they wanted to be in politics, and what party they wanted to be a part of. They will have spent years working in small dingy rooms as researchers, walking miles a day canvassing, and putting on smile after smile on the campaign trail. Why did they do that? Don’t tell me that it was just power lust. These people believed, rightly or wrongly, that they could make our country a better place. They believed in their cause and they believed in their party. So put yourself in their shoes, just for a second, and imagine how hard it would have been for them to turn their backs on everything that they had built. Why would they do that? The conduct of some Labour supporters provides us with an insight into how far our two major parties have fallen.
Last week, published in these very pages, was a tub-thumping condemnation of the actions of the 8 labour MPs that chose to leave. The article claims that their departure is “good riddance” and makes a number of other extraordinary and, in some cases, false statements. I fear the author has drunk too deeply from the well of ideology. I hope to offer a humble refutation to some of his more egregious claims and, potentially, restore some balance to this conversation.
One of the tragedies of the decline of the Labour party is that its former tolerance and inclusivity proved to be the root of its transformation into the bitter and twisted party obsessed with ideological purity that we see today. Corbyn has been a Labour MP since 1983, and, when his party was in government, he voted against them 428 times. Yet, he was still accepted. It was accepted that Labour was home to those on the left and, while the more centrist leadership at the time did not agree with him, they never threatened to chase him out of the party or to deselect him as an MP.
Indeed, the irony of Corbynites condemning Chuka Umunna as having betrayed the party that got him elected, is compounded by a tweet from Corbyn himself. In 2010, when power was nowhere in sight, Corbyn wrote “u vote 4 ur MP”. Now that the boot is on the other foot, it seems such values have swiftly faded away.
Forgetfulness regarding uncomfortable truths seems to be a trend as the article goes on. “[7 Labour MPs] took the unprecedented step of leaving the Labour party and forming a new centrist ‘party’, taking the incredibly bland name ‘The Independent Group’”. In one sentence, he brushes over historic party schisms, such as the Labour MPs that left to form the SDP, he is guilty of misleading the reader by saying MPs have formed a party - a position he repeats despite later acknowledging it is false and adds a pejorative slur that says more about the intolerance rife in Labour than anything else.
If these are your voters and party members, then I have sympathy with Umunna and others when they looked across the aisle and joined with Conservatives who shared in their values of “[reducing inequality] through the extension of opportunity” and “[creating] fairer, more prosperous communities” rather than engaging is open anti-Semitism.
I know that this is a claim that will rouse many people but it is one that I will stand by. Corbyn has a history of being anti-Semitic and it is on his watch that the party has become a place where Jewish people are not welcome. If you are in any doubt over this, I refer you to the incident in 2012 when Corbyn protested the removal of a mural of a group of Jewish caricatures playing Monopoly, the board resting on the naked backs of faceless men. I, however, prefer to listen to the Jewish Britons themselves who have expressed time and time again that they are being targeted. If Corbyn became PM, almost 40% of Jews would consider leaving Britain and The Jewish Chronicle writes “Corbyn threat is much greater than far right”.
Do I believe that The Independent Group is perfect? No. Of course not. It has been rightfully pointed out that saying that people of colour have a “funny tinge” is not a great way to start off. I believe that she should face investigation and potentially expulsion. But I think the author makes a mistake typical of the blinkered state that many Jez supporters exist in. We do not need our parties to be completely ideologically pure. We need them to represent our interests and the fact that, despite 72% of Labour members supporting a second referendum on Brexit, only the threat of more defections has convinced Corbyn to back a People’s Vote shows that Labour voters have forgotten this.
The author writes that The Independent Group is just “another regressive Third Way tribute act from the 90s”. The tragedy is that he hasn’t noticed, too busy insulting other people, that his own party has turned into a bad hangover from the 70s. Maybe we could do a bit less mudslinging and a bit more talking about policy?