There are seven MPs leaving Labour: Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey. They have revealed that they will call themselves ‘The Independent Group’.
They will publish a full statement of what they stand for this morning.
The MPs are setting out their reasons for leaving. Berger said she had become ’embarrassed and ashamed’ of the Labour Party, which she said was ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’. Leslie insisted that his values hadn’t changed, but said it would be ‘irresponsible’ to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister and accused the Labour leader of a ‘betrayal’ on Europe.
Smith set out her family history and said the Labour Party now contradicted what her family had campaigned for. Shuker set out the values that this group stood for, though these were rather anodyne, such as ‘we believe in the innate power of individuals’ and ‘we believe in strong democratic institutions’. He said he believed that these were values shared by the majority of the British people but that today’s ‘broken political parties’ were guilty of a ‘wilful failure’ to answer the questions facing the country.
Coffey, whose presence in the group surprised many as she has not been the most vocal Corbyn opponent, also described her own upbringing and life as a social worker before entering politics. She said ‘I thought I would be in the Labour Party for the rest of my life’ but criticised the party for no longer being a broad church. ‘The current leadership have been very successful at changing this party beyond recognition,’ she said.
Gapes said he had ‘always considered myself Labour to my core’ and also set out his Labour, working class background. All the MPs were clearly keen to show that they had as much claim to be labour as those they were leaving behind, trying to undermine suggestions that they were secret Tories all along.
Gapes said it was ‘personally very difficult for me’. Of all the MPs, Berger appeared to be struggling the most. She started by introducing herself as the ‘Labour and…’ before realising she wasn’t Labour any more. There was a pause before she corrected herself.
Umunna spoke last. He talked for the longest and made a wider pitch about why people should join the independent group of MPs. He said ‘we haven’t yet assigned formal roles and responsibilities’, though there are suspicions that he is pitching to lead that new group.
Asked whether they would be prepared to fight by-elections, Leslie said ‘general elections, by elections are absolutely not what is needed now’ and argued that voters had elected them as individuals.
On the comparison with the SDP, Smith claimed this didn’t stand up to scrutiny, not least because it was a different century with different challenges.
There are a number of practical issues which the group hasn’t answered, though. Shuker said the issue of short money and membership would be determined by those who came along to support it. The new group will publish their donations.