And then there was one: Anna Soubry, centre, is the new leader of Change UK, while former leader Heidi Allen (left) and Sarah Wollaston (right) have quit the party like rats leaving the proverbial sinking ship.
Six of Change UK’s MPs have quit the party after it failed to make an impression at the European Parliamentary elections.
It speaks volumes about the party that its principal defectors were its former leader, Heidi Allen, and spokesman Chuka Umunna.
Both have been talking up the prospect of an alliance with the Liberal Democrats – who, conversely, fared exceptionally well at the elections.
While they haven’t actually joined the Lib Dems yet, it seems a safe bet that they will.
Also out of CHUK are Gavin Shuker, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith and Sarah Wollaston.
You can smell the desperation, can’t you?
These people left their respective parties in the belief that their personal brands were more popular than those of the parties they were leaving.
They were wrong – even the three who left the Conservatives.
Now, it seems to This Writer, the six quitters – double-quitters, if you think about it – are looking for another way to keep themselves in Parliament.
With the Liberal Democrats apparently on the rise again thanks to their stance as the “Party of Remain”, it seems they look like good prospects.
I’d say “watch this space”, but in the case of Change UK it is only likely to grow more empty.
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Challenge: Luciana Berger speaking at the launch of the Independent Group. Within hours the Labour Party in her Wavertree constituency had challenged her to prove she deserves to continue as MP for the constituency by taking part in a by-election.
February 18 was a big day for the “Maleficent Seven” Labour MPs who quit to form their own “Independent Group” in Parliament – and now they are facing demands for by-elections in their constituencies.
Local Labour members who helped Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey say they were elected into Parliament on a Labour manifesto but the people of those constituencies no longer have representatives who support that manifesto. They say voters are entitled to choose whether they want to keep the MPs they have, or elect someone who means it when they say they support Labour ideals.
All in all, it was hardly an auspicious start for the group, whose members intended to use their split from Labour to highlight alleged faults in the party they were leaving.
We very soon had ample evidence that the schism was hardly prompted by recent events – the group’s website was registered in 2015… in a tax haven abroad.
The headquarters of this Brexit-opposing organisation is above a Wetherspoons pub – an organisation that supports Brexit – called, appropriately, The Unicorn.
And it turns out that this political organisation is nothing of the sort – it is in fact a company called Gemini A Ltd. This allows it to take advantage of a legal loophole that means Gemini A Ltd does not have to declare the identity of its financial backers. We don’t know who is funding these MPs.
Within hours of the new group being announced, Ms Smith had plunged it into a racism row with ill-judged remarks on the BBC’s Politics Live.
And now all seven are facing challenges to justify their claims on their Parliamentary seats.
See for yourself:
The 'Independent Group' doesn't exist. You are sitting with Gemini A Ltd. A private company incorporated and owned by Gavin Shuker MP. https://t.co/FDDfJ1D3L6
If you want an example of UK electoral law loopholes: The Independent Group, which looks/swims/quacks a lot like a political party and is asking for donations, is actually a private company. So it isn't subject to electoral law rules requiring them to declare financial backers.
(For those who have trouble reading images, the tweet from Wavertree CLP says: “We are extremely disappointed that Luciana Berger has made the decision to resign from the Labour Party. 35,000 people in Wavertree voted for the Labour Manifesto in 2017, yet they are no longer represented by a Labour MP. We call on Luciana Berger to immediately resign the seat, to give the people of Wavertree the opportunity to decide who represents them in Parliament.”)
Any MP who won their electoral mandate under the banner of a particular party should stand down as an MP and run again as an independent if they leave that party.
Or is Ms Berger fine with it? She shouldn’t be – besides anti-Semitism, one of the main reasons for the “Independent Group” being formed was racism in general.
A lot of people aren’t – and made the obvious connection:
I presume Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie and Ann Coffey will be throwing the racist Angela Smith out of the party or at the very least suspending her until an investigation and tribunal has happened. #LabourSplit
Here‘s Asa Winstanley of The Electronic Intifada: “Right-wing former Labour MP and “Labour Friend of Israel” @angelasmithmp proves just how concerned she really is about anti-racism by talking about people who are “a funny tint”.”
Barry O’Leary tweeted: “@angelasmithmp Thank you so happy you left especially after today’s proof you have problems with race. “Black or a Funny Tinge”.”
CHANGE POLITICS by starting an organisation with undisclosed corporate funding, full of people who supported the Iraq War, who profit off privatisation of public services, who are embracing Tories with open arms, who make racist comments against BAME people on national tv.
Some recalled Independent Group poster boy Chuka Umunna’s claim that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour was “institutionally racist” and asked the obvious question. Here‘s James: “Is @TheIndGroup “institutionally racist”?”
Louie summed it all up – and provided part of this article’s headline: “A big thank you to Angela Smith for helping to kick racism out of the Labour party by resigning this morning.”
But the last word should go to Eoin Clarke’s Tory Fibs Twitter account:
7 new Labour Careers are born today. These constituencies will rapidly select Labour Candidates who stand ready to serve their constituents faithfully, and continue to fulfill their hope of a Labour government for the many, not the few.
I played it to Mrs Mike, who responded: “Now she knows how destroying it is. Would she have treated Corbyn the way she has if she had known what it’s like to be on the receiving end?”
Personally I have no sympathy. Certainly at least one of her colleagues has been happy to attack other Labour Party members for behaviour that no reasonable person would consider to be unacceptable. Ms Smith thought she was untouchable because of her privileged position. She was wrong. She’s not protected by the Labour Party complaints system any more. And that is no bad thing at all.
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A group of seven MPs has split off from the Labour Party – to gasps of relief across the United Kingdom.
The reaction is probably not what they wanted.
The group includes Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and Angela Smith as expected.
Joining them are Luciana Berger – quitting before her Liverpool Wavertree CLP pushes through the “no confidence” vote that members have been readying? – along with Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey.
The group has released a statement but it seems its website is having teething problems – odd since it has been registered since 2015 – and I can’t really be bothered unless Vox Political readers are genuinely interested. Are you?
It’s much more fun to highlight the public response, which is primarily relief. The flood of comments yesterday (Sunday, February 18) when rumours spread that the split would happen today, speaks for itself. Some thought this was another publicity stunt and they would not go through with it:
Others pointed out the qualities of the expected splitters and the likely tensions between them:
Can't see it lasting long, think about the problem they all have: Not one potential member will be able to trust any of the other potential members because they already know how each one of them won't think twice about stepping on them in favour of their own egos/careers.😉
Mr Jeffery will be pleased to see Ms Berger and Mr Gapes among the splitters. Mr Gapes is also on Matt Zarb-Cousins’s list:
I’m not the only one totally fed up with these Labour MPs grandstanding for years about leaving, while members put in the hours campaigning to get them elected. If you’re a Labour MP but you don’t want a Labour government or to enact our agenda, leave & do so quickly ffs. Thanks
Speculation on what the “Independent Group” would represent has been overwhelmingly negative towards them:
What will this new "Centrist" party stand for? More Austerity? Rampant marketisation & uncontrolled capitalism? Neoconservative Thatcherism? I suspect all of the above under a pro EU banner. The policies are being rejected & thank Christ they are. We need a socialist LAB govt!
And the departure will provoke comparisons with the “Gang of Four” who formed the SDP in 1981. That decision led to the formation of the Liberal Democrats, a party that apparently killed itself off as a national political organisation by forming a coalition with the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015. Here’s Martin O’Neill:
But for both groups, it is hard to disagree with Tony Benn’s withering critique of Roy Jenkins here. They owe a huge amount to the Labour Party, without which they’d have no prominence or public standing at all. And Labour will be better off without them.https://t.co/rBlwvol5wC
As ever, Tony Benn called it correctly – 38 years ago.
Last word goes to Liam Young:
Since the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader they have been planning this split. They launched a failed coup in 2016 which they arrogantly believed they had sewn up. They’ve bungled the split numerous times since. They are incompetent and delusional. Good riddance.
Still, Mr Umunna may well be thinking about announcing that it’s possible he could consider something along those lines again at some point in the future.
Also involved in discussions about forming a new party, we’re told, is Chris Leslie – who has been castigated in a letter by representatives of his Nottingham East Constituency Labour Party.
“We believe that the views expressed in your most recent email to constituents are likely to damage the reputation and electoral prospects of our party and give the impression that you are doubtful that a Labour government would be the best outcome for Britain,” they wrote. “This email crossed a line and we believe it is unacceptable for a sitting Labour MP to attack the party in this manner.”
The letter also stated: “You are happy to attack the party leadership, other Labour MPs and party members; giving the impression that our party is divided as we approach the local council elections in May and a possible general election.
“The support you give constituents and party members in Nottingham East is well below that of other local Labour MPs… Members and residents are much more likely to have seen you attacking the party and its leadership than representing the views of local residents.”
Draw your own conclusions. While the MPs already mentioned, together with Gavin Shuker who lost a vote of “no confidence” in his own CLP last year, and Angela Smith might say they are frustrated with pro-Brexit policies and issues over anti-Semitism, their real reasons for wanting to take their allegiances elsewhere seem clear.
So the right-wing newspapers are full of rumours that these people will help set up a new “centrist” (read: neoliberal) party alongside Conservatives (possibly Anna Soubry) and Liberal Democrats who may be desperate for public interest after their five-year dalliance with the Tories.
Intense discussions are taking place at Westminster that could lead to the emergence of a new centrist party consisting of six or more disaffected anti-Brexit Labour MPs along with the involvement of some Conservatives and the backing of the Liberal Democrats.
Apparently some of the ringleaders have lobbied backbench colleagues they thought were sympathetic, with an invitation to join in. It seems Clive Lewis was among them – and here’s his response:
Hi Wendy,Im plenty fine in @UKLabour! We already have a party committed to neolib economic policies – it’s called the Tory Party.All this endeavour will do in our current voting system is keep them in power.We need a radically transformative govt.Not more of the same but rebadged https://t.co/WvEC32acoi
Angela Smith: Her claims about a “cabal of hard-left members” in her local Labour Party appear to be false.
Right-wing Labour MP Angela Smith has denounced members of her own constituency party as “a cabal of hard-left members” after she lost a vote of “no confidence” on Friday, November 16.
Penistone & Stocksbridge Labour Party supported the motion of “no confidence” in their MP by 27 votes to 20 against.
In response, Ms Smith released what can only be described as a rant on Twitter, as follows: “I take my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament very seriously and my first priority is always to do my job, to the best of my ability.
“It is frankly astonishing that a cabal of hard left members has absorbed everyone’s precious time and energy on an inaccurate and divisive motion of no confidence. Given that the country is facing its biggest crisis since Suez, one would have thought their attention would be better focused on the huge decision facing the country, a decision that will affect the lives of every one of my constituents for years to come.
“I will continue to prioritise our area and my constituents and will not be distracted by internal political posturing such as this.”
From my own point of view, it is less than a week since I was expelled from the Labour Party on a series of false, trumped-up charges, including one that I supported a claim that Tony Blair had been influenced, during his time as prime minister, by “a cabal of Jewish advisers”. I didn’t – but it seems to me that anyone using the word “cabal” is suggesting a conspiracy of some kind and deserves to have their behaviour examined.
Members of Penistone & Stocksbridge CLP have responded to Ms Smith’s rant by releasing the full text of their motion – to show that her claim that it was “inaccurate and divisive” is false. Here it is:
“This CLP notes that
1. Angela Smith has represented this CLP since it was created in 2010. Before that she was MP for Sheffield Hillsborough from 2005 to 2010. (1)
2. In 2015 Angela Smith voted against greater restrictions on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas in National Parks, the Broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty, World Heritage sites, and near points where water is abstracted for domestic and food production purposes. (2)
3. Angela said earlier this month at a water industry conference in Manchester that Labour’s plans for the return to public ownership of the privatised water industry were “undeveloped, uncosted and should not be a priority among so many post-Brexit challenges”. She denounced the proposals, promoted by John McDonnell, as ideological and founded in “the politics of the past”. (3)
4. Angela Smith has written in the press articles that undermine the leadership and the wider Party. (4)
5. Angela Smith tweets and retweets criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. (5)
6. Angela Smith was invited to the Annual Dinner in February. However, she advised the organisers that she would not be attending the Annual Dinner, but she would in fact be attending another event that was being held at the same venue, Wortley Hall.
“This CLP believes that:
• Angela Smith has by her conduct, her actions, and in articles she has written demonstrated that she no longer represents the views of the CLP.
• She has been a persistent and visceral critic of Jeremy Corbyn and through her divisive attacks on him she has damaged the Labour Party locally and nationally.
• Her articles and comments on Fracking and Privatised Water Companies that are contrary to the Labour Party Manifesto commitments demonstrate that she has lost touch with the Party and the constituents she was elected to represent.
• She has snubbed this CLP very publicly at an event to raise funds for her election campaign.
• The relationship of trust and respect that is an essential and fundamental requirement between an MP and their Constituency Party has broken down, perhaps irrevocably, and as a result this CLP has no confidence in Angela Smith to represents its members as our MP.
“This CLP resolves to:
1. Propose a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Angela Smith at the CLP General Meeting on 16 November 2018.
2. Write to the Chief Whip and ask that she has the whip removed.
“Appendix [also written by proposers of motion]:
1. Angela Christine Smith (born 16 August 1961) is a British Labour Party politician and former lecturer. She has represented the parliamentary seat of Penistone and Stocksbridge since 2010. Before boundary changes she was Member of Parliament (MP) for Sheffield Hillsborough from 2005 to 2010.
2. Angela Smith voted against greater restrictions on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas in National Parks, the Broads, areas of oustanding natural beauty, World Heritage sites, and near points where water is abstracted for domestic and food production purposes. A majority of MPs disagreed and voted for greater restrictions on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas in National Parks, the Broads, areas of oustanding natural beauty, World Heritage sites, and near points where water is abstracted for domestic and food production purposes. 296 for, 259 against, 0 abstained, 91 absent.
3. ‘Labour MP savages party’s water policy’, The Times, 17 April 2018
4. ”Car crash’ Jeremy Corbyn under pressure over foreign trips’, Daily Express, 20 August 2018
It should also be noted that the motion was submitted by a branch of the CLP at the beginning of October – long before the current crisis over Brexit began.
Ms Smith’s behaviour has attracted justifiable criticism:
During the local elections this MP wrote an article for the Murdoch press denouncing Labour’s plans for public ownership of water, which polls show 83% back, including a large majority of Tory voters, without mentioning her links to private water companies. https://t.co/1GuV7WsBbv
Along with most of the #Labour membership, I support Labour & I support Corbyn as Labour leader. We are NOT 'hard-left'. We DO NOT belong to a 'cabal'. Your arrogance is highly distasteful, & your smears are wholly offensive. Leave the Labour Party now. https://t.co/zK327qz5s7
But it is fair to say that she has also attracted support – from some of the usual so-called “centrist” suspects, like Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie. Their comments appear below, along with representative responses:
Chuka going large on a vote of no confidence on shit stirring Angela Smith.
Says nothing about Claire Perry's libellous attack on Jeremy Corbyn.
Hi Chris, this is your conscience speaking, what are you going to post on Twitter as "appalling";
UN report describing austerity driven poverty as "punitive, mean-spirited & callous"? OR 2. A disruptive private water company lobbyist being reminded her job is actually as an MP? https://t.co/m74WbBS83F
It seems some members of Labour’s higher echelons still think they have a right to trample over the membership at large. Considering my own treatment at the hands of the National Constitutional Committee, it seems there may be some justification in that belief.
But times are changing, as the recent swathe of “no confidence” votes indicates.
Perhaps the following Tweet sums up the situation best:
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