Labour does the splits

Seven Labour centrists and Remainers have jumped Corbyn’s far-left Brexit ship. Emily Hohler reports.


The tribe leaving behind tribal politics
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2019 Shutterstock. No use without permission.)

"After years of whispering and plotting, the Labour Party split has begun," says the Financial Times. On Monday, seven Labour MPs announced they "had had enough of the party's leftward drift under Jeremy Corbyn and concluded Labour, as they knew it, was lost". The group Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey, Gavin Shuker and Angela Smith has yet to form a new party and will sit in parliament as The Independent Group.

Their motivations for quitting differ: the "abhorrent rise of anti-Semitism" which Corbyn has failed to tackle, an "increase in misogyny and bullying, and "an anti-Western foreign policy" which gives the likes of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro the "benefit of the doubt". Though united in their opposition to Brexit, the group has chosen "not to put Remain at the heart of its agenda".

A mix tape with dated tunes

However, the goup's statement of independence "reads like a New Labour mix tape" with its talk of a "mixed social market economy" and a "multilateral rules-based order". One suspects that if there is a centre-ground, it isn't "London's formula of economic and social liberalism", but the opposite: "tax-and-spend plus defence, law-and-order and patriotism what is generally known, and dismissed with a sneer, as populism".

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

There is a "huge gap" in the centre ground, insists Rachel Sylvester in The Times. Brexit has "scrambled" the "political Rubik's Cube" and both the Tories and Labour have been "taken over by extremists". MPs of all political colours have formed alliances to defeat the government; "cultural and generational differences" trump "old left-right divides". Chuka Umunna's promise to leave the "old tribal politics" behind will appeal to many who want something different.

It remains to be seen how many more MPs it will attract, but the original seven have already been joined by Labour MP Joan Ryan and three Tory Remainers, Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston. Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, has made an "emotional" plea for Corbyn to change direction to avoid further defections, say Jessica Elgot and Rowena Mason in The Guardian. Many MPs have said their response would depend on Corbyn's reaction, including his response to deselection attempts and social-media attacks, and that a "hardline response" would prompt them to jump.

If The Independent Group's numbers do swell, particularly with non-Labour MPs, finding a coherent strategic direction could be tricky, says Stephen Bush in The Daily Telegraph. The group believes Corbyn is a "danger to the country" and that the Tories are devoid of "compassion and competence". But is it aiming at being a cleansed Labour party, or a British version of the French En Marche, an entirely new movement targeting voters of all political persuasions?

The splitters are "planning a dance of the seven veils", putting values before policies, hoping to build "momentum and interest as they evolve", says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. Building from scratch isn't easy and this "may not be the solution to our broken politics", but it is the "first step toward finding one".

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.