Another female Jewish MP has left the Labour party, apparently bullied out of the movement she has worked in for decades. Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, announced in a letter last night that she ‘cannot advocate a government led by Jeremy Corbyn’ because he ‘is not fit to be Prime Minister’. She complains that ‘anti-Semitism has become mainstream in the Labour Party’ and that the leader ‘has attracted the support of too many anti-Semites’.
It is a damning letter, and one that has widely been tweeted by the colleagues Ellman has left behind as proof that something needs to change in the party. The problem is that we’ve seen this before: the same MPs made the same sort of comments when Luciana Berger quit earlier this year. Ellman’s departure shows that their pleas fell on deaf ears. She had been facing trigger ballots with her local party, and local members had tabled a no-confidence vote in her on Yom Kippur.
And yet there are Labour MPs, including Ruth Smeeth, who has also faced a terrible amount of anti-Semitism from within the membership, who have said they are determined to ‘stay and fight’. Why is this?
On the surface, it looks as though many Labour MPs have totally lost their nerve, and are reduced to a sad parody of Hans Blix in the film ‘Team America’, who threatens rogue leaders that he will be ‘very cross’ if they do not do as the UN asks. As night follows day, a new atrocious event in Labour is followed by a slew of angry tweets, and then apparently nothing. Do the MPs sending these very cross missives really think they’ve done their job once they’ve pressed send?
But there is a fundamental difference of perspective here. Ellman decided to leave because she couldn’t advocate Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. She sees him as a danger to the country. Her colleagues see him as someone who is only currently leading the party and who won’t be once he loses the next election. For them – as well as many of those at the top of Labour – the most important thing here is about succession. As I say in the magazine this week, much of the turmoil around Corbyn is about who will take over from him, with many throughout the party presuming his days as leader are numbered. The angrily-tweeting moderate MPs have the same perspective: they see the current situation as one to be endured so that they are in a position to elect someone fit for office. If they go, then they will be replaced by Corbynite candidates in their seats who will likely become the next Labour MP, thus further consolidating the power of the hard left.
It’s worth noting that Ellman wants to return to Labour under a new leader. She isn’t saying the party is over, either, and this is something that has given her remaining colleagues a little hope.
Moderate MPs are discussing this morning what they can do, beyond tweeting, to respond to Ellman’s departure. Part of their response will have to be producing evidence that the Labour Party isn’t beyond rescue, something they have so far failed to do. It is now clear that they do not have a tipping point or red lines which cannot be crossed, but are instead going to bide their time. But they need to change the way they communicate this, as currently they risk looking as though they just don’t care enough.