The march of the Labour moderates away from Westminster continues, with Heidi Alexander the latest to quit parliament. The Labour MP announced this morning that she will stand down from her seat and take up a job working with Sadiq Khan at City Hall. Her departure is no real surprise: speculation has been rife for a while that she would quit. It has also been obvious that Alexander wasn’t happy, to say the least, working under Jeremy Corbyn. Alexander was one of the first to quit the shadow cabinet in 2016 in the wake of the referendum. At the time, she told Corbyn that ‘a change of leadership is essential’, in the hope that Labour’s moderates could oust their leader. That didn’t work – and nor did her follow-up criticism of Corbyn in the months that followed, during which she said her time in the shadow cabinet showed that it was ‘entirely dysfunctional’. While the subsequent general election silenced her – and others’ – criticism of Corbyn, her departure today makes it clear that, for Labour moderates, like Heidi Alexander, Andy Burnham and Tristram Hunt, Westminster still isn’t a happy place to be.
Labour will have no problem in keeping hold of Alexander’s Lewisham East seat in the upcoming by-election. The party has a majority of 21,000 and even if the Tories pile their resources into the area, they don’t stand a chance of snatching away the seat. So the big question is who the party puts forward to stand in south London. In such a safe seat, expect an ugly bunfight to break out among Corbyn’s allies who will already be vying for position. As the pro-Corbyn website Skwawkbox puts it:
‘Her (Alexander’s) local party now has an opportunity to select a candidate more aligned with Labour’s direction under its leadership. With the right-wing in Lewisham well organised, it is expected to be a tough contest.’
So Corbyn’s supporters will almost certainly see Alexander’s departure as an opportunity rather than a loss. It gives the far left another chance to strengthen their grip on the Labour party and elect one of their own to parliament. For the dwindling number of moderates left on Labour’s backbenchers, things have just become even lonelier.