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.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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.
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
Joan Ryan: Apparently police were called in because she was given a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ toy labelled ‘deselection express’.
The Telegraph‘s headline seemed genuinely disturbing – Police called in over Labour’s deselection row after ‘menacing’ cards placed in MPs’ parliamentary offices – until we all read what it was about.
“Officers from the Parliamentary liaison unit were last night probing how an unknown intruder was able to enter the office of one of the MPs and place the card, which contained details of an upcoming holiday to Cyprus, on their desk,” the article stated.
“Both MPs were also sent a miniature toy replica of Thomas the Tank Engine, which left-wing supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have referred to as the ‘Deselection Express’.”
Police were called in because Joan Ryan and Gavin Shuker received a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ toy?
The howls of derision were particularly shrill:
Briefing the Telegraph over a ‘Thomas the tank engine’ toy is a new comedy low for certain Labour MPs.
Was Chuka Umunna trying to be as offensive as possible to the largest number of people in his latest speech?
Why did he think it was appropriate to characterise Labour Party members as “dogs” while bemoaning the motions of ‘no confidence’ called against Labour Friends of Israel chairperson Joan Ryan and Gavin Shuker, both of whom had attacked party leader Jeremy Corbyn over the anti-Semitism row?
According to BBC News: “Labour MP Chuka Umunna has accused leader Jeremy Corbyn of driving centre-left MPs like himself out of the party.
“The MP … urged Mr Corbyn to “call off the dogs”.
“In a speech to the Blairite campaign group Progress, the former frontbencher said MPs were being targeted for standing up for zero tolerance of racism.
“He said: “My message to our leadership: it is within your power to stop this, so call off the dogs and get on with what my constituency, one of the most diverse communities in the nation, demands we do – without equivocation, fight this Tory Brexit.”
It is not credible to think that he does not know that characterising human beings as “dogs” is dehumanising behaviour, designed to strip people of their dignity – as European Jews discovered during the 1930s and 40s, when the Nazis in Germany called them “vermin”.
Nobody would suggest that Mr Umunna wants to exterminate opponents of Labour MPs who seem more interested in supporting the interests of the Israeli government than their own party and people, but it is clear that this is an exercise in “othering” – making perfectly legitimate members of the Labour Party appear to be enemies.
The word has also been used as a slur against Labour left-wingers, who have also been described as “Trots” (Trotskyists) – as Joan Ryan did in a tweet after she lost her own ‘no confidence’ vote – and “rabble”.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell condemned Mr Umunna’s words as “unacceptable” –
– and he is absolutely right.
Already, social media colleague Martin Odoni has created a template letter of complaint to be submitted to the Labour Party. You can find it here.
Mr Umunna has tried to strike a more reasonable note on Twitter – and failed:
Was @UKLabour founded to fight for working people, or attack excellent MPs like @gavinshuker & @joanryanEnfield who have always been their champions? This madness needs to stop – all energy instead should be focused on fighting this terrible Tory Brexit. #FixUp
For example, Mr Umunna’s claims about Labour’s left are further undermined by the facts about Joan Ryan, who faced deselection attempts in 2015 – before Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader and the anti-Semitism row was manufactured as a stick with which to beat him:
Among the concerns were her style, attitude towards local activists – and many felt that she should not run again because the revelations surrounding her during the expenses scandal.
Priceless comment from an MP who belongs to the faction that staged a coup, failed, then continued to undermine our party, and its leader. It's also a worry how casual he is at endorsing an MP who was found to have made malicious allegations of a member's 'antisemitism', too. https://t.co/DIfm0B3ebN
Erm, complaining about people being supposedly abusive by calling them 'dogs' is the very definition of irony. Besides, the abuse I've seen online has mostly been from anti-corbynites towards Corbyn supporters https://t.co/HjlkPVGAeZ
The thing that Labour right-wingers will never tell you about democratic reselection is that it gives all local Labour members the chance to get rid of lazy, corrupt, self-serving and/or incompetent MPs, whether they're on the right of the Labour Party or the left.
We have ensured that it is the people we represent that have taken back control of the @UKLabour not elite politicians. Labour is back with the policies which will transform the lives #ForTheMany with vital mainstream policies.
Oh – and this turned up as a response to Joan Ryan’s ‘no confidence’ vote: Owen Smith tweeted that the Iranian channel Press TV was live-streaming Labour Party meetings as part of a propaganda campaign… against Israel.
Against Israel? Last time I checked Enfield was in the UK. You have let the mask slip a bit there. By the way did you have the same outrage when someone recorded a private meeting of the NEC and handed it over to the press? https://t.co/vIUKglesau
Of course, the ‘no confidence’ vote was partly triggered by allegations that Ms Ryan has been using her position as chair of Labour Friends of Israel in the interests of the current Israeli government.
That last point about whether Mr Smith was equally outraged when a fellow Labour NEC member recorded Peter Willsman speaking on anti-Semitism accusations is excellent. This is all about double-standards.
After all, Mr Umunna was displaying his own double-standard when he dehumanised left-wing Labour members using language that he would never have employed if he had been referring to Jews.
Members of Joan Ryan’s own Enfield North constituency party have supported a vote of ‘no confidence’ in her.
There could have been no better illustration of the reason the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel lost the confidence of her constituency party members than her vitriolic outburst in response to it.
The decision casts further doubt on the validity of accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour Party members.
Joan Ryan had faked an accusation of anti-Semitism against a Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporter called Jean Fitzpatrick. Speaking to an undercover reporter who she thought was a pro-Israel activist, she claimed the PSC activist had said Labour Friends of Israel was a route to getting a job at a bank in the City.
“You heard her say … ‘join you lot and you get into Oxford’ or ‘you get into working in the bank,’” Ms Ryan said in the resulting documentary, The Lobby. The film shows that Jean Fitzpatrick had said no such thing, but Ms Ryan reported the campaigner to the party’s disciplinary system.
Ms Fitzpatrick, 71, provided a statement to local members on what really happened, attached as an appendix to the motion. She stated that “the strain of the whole case took its toll on me psychologically and emotionally… It would be true to say that it is only in the last year I have begun to recover my health and equilibrium”.
As a Labour member who is going through a much more lengthy experience with Labour’s disciplinary procedure, I can personally confirm its effect on victims’ mental and emotional balance. And I use the word “victims” deliberately.
It has also been revealed that Labour Friends of Israel works “really closely” and “behind the scenes” with the Israeli embassy – including raising accusations of anti-Semitism against other members of the Labour Party.
Ms Ryan has been one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most bitter opponents since he was elected leader of the Labour Party, and the motion cites this long-running campaign as its basis, stating that she has written and contributed to many articles in a “press unjustly hostile to Jeremy Corbyn. By doing so our MP has smeared his character.” A constant theme has been baseless allegations of anti-Semitism against the party under Mr Corbyn – made under the direction of the Israeli Embassy?
It has been alleged that Ms Ryan is in contact with an Israeli Embassy agent every day.
And Enfield North constituency party members were angry that Ms Ryan’s 2017 general election campaign was “all but abandoning Labour and sought to publicize herself as an independent in all but name.”
At the time, Ms Ryan sent out letters claiming that “many” local people had told her “they have more confidence in Theresa May as prime minister than they would have in Jeremy Corbyn.” Despite “your misgivings about the Labour leadership,” she wrote, “I hope that you will consider voting for me as your local MP.”
Yesterday’s constituency party meeting was packed, according to those who attended. But look at the way her supporters tried to intimidate members:
It's packed to the rafters at Joan Ryan's CLP vote of no confidence in Enfield North.
Several loud and aggressive people waving Israeli flags outside the front door shouting: 'If you vote against Joan Ryan then you are an anti semite!'
Obviously, voting against a transgressing MP is not anti-Semitic, but the accusation does show how poisonous claims of anti-Semitism have become – that those making such claims are doing so, not to reveal genuine issues, but simply to silence critics.
The meeting itself was decisive:
Joan Ryan said to be 'squirming' her way through the vote of no confidence debate – and 'taken apart' by an Israeli woman's contribution.
Brilliant well done Enflield this is the way forward these Rogue Labour MPs who put Israel before our Party and their own self serving ways should be held to account, she has she has to go. https://t.co/bDT0BPU6QT
“Trots, Stalinists, Communists and assorted hard left”? What a disgusting way to respond – by disparaging the politics of her fellow members of the UK’s largest political party!
Can you imagine what would happen if any one of those people had responded with some well-known words or claims about people of Jewish ethnicity? The two behaviours are equally abhorrent, are they not?
And she got the reaction she deserved:
Imagine reacting like this to members showing no confidence in you? No ideas, no positivity – just smears, name-calling and cynicism. @UKLabour deserves better MPs https://t.co/nqap3qgNK2
– Fiddled her expenses – Voted for the Iraq war – Voted against an inquiry into Iraq – Abstained on Tory welfare bill and Corbyn's Saudi arm sales vote – Said that Jeremy Corbyn is "just interested in meeting terrorists"
With her own constituency party calling for a new candidate to represent them at the next general election, focus now turns to Labour Friends of Israel, which lies at the heart of this matter.
Labour should proscribe Labour Friends of Israel now: it is a front group for the Israeli embassy and was caught by an undercover reporter admitting as much. See the footage: https://t.co/oxZuXQDEZw#WeAreEnfieldNorth
I disagree. Cutting LFI out of the party is not enough because the MPs and party members who support the organisation will remain. Labour needs to investigate every single member of LFI, to ensure that nobody who is willing to work for the Israeli government, rather than the British people, is allowed to continue as a Labour representative.
It is also worth adding that another Labour MP lost a ‘no confidence’ vote:
Along with Joan Ryan, the Luton South Labour MP Gavin Shuker has also lost a vote of no confidence – a motion which was passed by his CLP this evening.
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