Frank Field has become the first Labour MP to quit the party over anti-Semitism. He resigned the whip – blaming a ‘culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation’ in local parties. In a letter to the Chief Whip, Field said the leadership was ‘becoming a force for anti-Semitism in British politics’:
‘Britain fought the second world war to banish these views from our politics, but that superhuman effort and success is now under huge and sustained internal attack.
The leadership is doing nothing substantive to address this erosion of our core values. It saddens me that we are increasingly seen as a racist party.’
Although he cites anti-Semitism as the trigger, Field was facing deselection threats from his local party over his Brexit stance. He was one of the Labour Brexit rebels to vote with the government on the crunch customs union amendment before recess. That led to a furious backlash among the membership – both Momentum and moderates – as Field and others were accused of propping up the Tory government. He then lost a confidence vote in his constituency party.
It follows that Corbyn’s supporters will try and spin this as Field jumping before he was pushed. But even with the Brexit circumstances taken into account, Field’s resignation letter touches on a dilemma many Labour MPs find themselves in. After a summer of torrid headlines and anti-Semitism allegations, Labour MPs must decide: do they remain – or quit?
For a lot of Labour politicians, it’s a matter of timing. A chunk accept that they cannot look voters in the eye and say they think Jeremy Corbyn is fit to be prime minister. The next thing to decide is when and how to go. Some say it’s best to stay in the party for now as that is the best way to stop Brexit. So, do they stick around until the next election and see what happens or should they leave now and stand as independents? One thing is certain, Frank Field won’t be the last Labour MP to resign over the issue.