On Monday, seven former Labour MPs stood bravely in front of the world to announce their departure from the party. They have formed an ‘Independent Group’ which will sit in Parliament, representing a long departed political middle ground and providing a sense of desperately needed relief for those of us who have felt politically homeless for the last few years.
From the earliest stages of my political engagement, Labour felt like the natural political home for me. I joined the party under Ed Miliband in 2014 because I wanted to do something to support the party ahead of the 2015 election, in which I was a few months too young to vote. I felt confident in this decision, despite warnings from one or two family members about the outspoken antisemitic fringes of the party. Why should I worry while the party leader himself was Jewish, and when the Jewish Labour movement was loud enough to nip antisemitic incidents in the bud before they reached me?
I voted for Yvette Cooper in the leadership election following the 2015 election defeat. The Jewish community in the UK has known about Jeremy Corbyn’s relationship with antisemitism since long before he was elected leader and I, like many other Jewish Labour members feared that his election would bring unwelcome change to the party’s attitudes towards its Jewish members. We were right.
I’m not going to re-litigate the evidence of antisemitism here – at this point the proof is incontrovertible by anyone without blinkers on – but if you do want a run-through of what antisemitism is and how it spread throughout the Labour party, there’s an excellent thread by Sara Gibbs that you can read here.
I left the party in December 2017 when rumours were circulating that the party was considering re-admitting a previously expelled Holocaust denier, and whilst that particular rumour turned out to be false, hearing about it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Having spent two years trying to give Corbyn and his inner circle a chance, since leaving, my worries have been continuously affirmed by incident after incident of unchecked antisemitism from MPs, the NEC, Momentum, and ordinary members.
This split represents a move from seven high-profile MPs to say “Enough is Enough” in the most effective way that they could – resigning their party membership and standing together on a platform for which those of us who no longer felt welcome or safe in Corbyn’s Labour could comfortably vote. Chuka Umunna, one of the members of the Independent Group, spoke this morning about representing the political values of a silent majority who are fed up of voting based on tribal loyalty, or voting to keep dangerous political ideologies out of government. The Independent Group gives those of us who have felt lost in the political wilderness somebody to vote for.
In addition to an alternative to Labour’s institutional antisemitism, the Independent Group also presents a convincing position on Brexit. They support the idea of a referendum on the Brexit deal agreed, something that Labour members have been clamouring for since 2016. Whereas, the Labour leadership’s stance has been murky at best, and actively enabling an ideologically-driven Brexit, dominated by the right-wing of the Conservative Party.
Personally, Brexit isn’t an issue that scares me as much as the normalisation of antisemitism on the left, but it is an issue which has left a lot of working-class people in Britain frightened for their futures. Labour has been a thoroughly ineffective opposition on the European issue, demonstrating that Corbyn’s engrained scepticism on Europe is taking precedence over the concerns of the membership.
That kind of entrenchment and total lack of informed change of opinion is another thing that Umunna spoke about in his statement. He discussed the idea that the group is committed to voting on their principles, and that said opinions are not completely uniform within this new alliance. These are MPs devoted to voting, as representatives for their constituents, on what they believe to be right, not swayed by partisan politics. This is a move that revives the idea of a political broad church, something that Labour has ceased to be under Corbyn, with the party’s latest worrying move encouraging MPs to sign a loyalty pledge to the leadership – something which would completely stifle the needs of individual constituencies.
I am proud of, and grateful to the seven MPs who made this decision to leave Labour. Their bravery in the face of the potential collapse of their own political careers, has given hope to so many people who feel politically homeless. The Jewish community here in Britain too, particularly those of us who lean left, who have been living in fear of being forgotten, ignored, and in some cases abused by those we elected to represent us, are breathing a little easier in the knowledge that those who are willing to fight for us, will no longer be stifled by party leadership.
Whether the Independent Group evolves into a new political party of significance or not, this is a shift that will bring these vitally important issues to the forefront of public discussion, and work towards better holding our political representatives to account. All that remains to be said is that I hope that more MPs will follow their example and show that the welfare of this country is more important to them than party loyalty.
Featured Image: The Australian