Seven Lawmakers Resign from Britain’s Labour Party

Parliamentarians accuse Jeremy Corbyn of tolerating antisemitism and form their own party.

Chuka Umunna, member of the British Parliament for Streatham, makes a speech, March 30, 2015
Chuka Umunna, member of the British Parliament for Streatham, makes a speech, March 30, 2015 (Labour)

Seven lawmakers have resigned from Britain’s Labour Party, arguing that it has become “institutionally antisemitic” under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

What’s they’re saying

  • Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree): Labour has failed to “address hatred against Jewish people in its ranks… Culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”
  • Ann Coffey (Stockport): “Antisemitism is rife and tolerated… Any criticism of the leadership is responded to with abuse and accusations of treachery… Loyalty cannot be an end in itself.”
  • Mike Gapes (Ilford South): “Labour is now a racist and antisemitic party… Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side of so many international issues, from Russia to Syria to Venezuela… A Corbyn Labour government would threaten our national security and international alliances.”
  • Chris Leslie (Nottingham East): Labour has been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left.”
  • Gavin Shuker (Luton South): “We don’t think every problem in the world is created by the West.”
  • Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge): Voters don’t want to be “patronized by left-wing intellectuals who think being poor and working class constitutes a state of grace.”
  • Chuka Umunna (Streatham): Both Conservatives and Labour have put “party interest before the national interest… Politics is broken. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s change it.”

Ambitions

Most of the defectors are leaving in disgust with Corbyn’s inability or refusal to weed out antisemitism and formulate a clear alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit policy.

Umunna, clearly the leader of the group, has broader ambitions: to transcend the two-party system. He explicitly invited non-Labour members to join what is for now called The Independent Group.

I agree that there is room in the center of British politics. The Conservatives are beholden to the Brexit right and Labour to the far left.

But a new party cannot be simply anti-Brexit. A party representing the 48 percent who voted to remain in the EU would likely be doomed. Those voters are concentrated in the major cities and Scotland, which are underrepresented in Parliament.

Party at war

More lawmakers disagree with Corbyn’s antiquated economic views and his pacifist foreign policy.

Corbyn was originally elected in 2015 with almost no support from fellow lawmakers. He did win the backing of the Labour-affiliated trade unions and far-left activist groups.

  • The first rebellion came after the 2016 EU referendum, when center-left parliamentarians accused the Euroskeptic Corbyn of failing to campaign convincingly against Brexit. Dozens of shadow cabinet members were either sacked or resigned.
  • Corbyn won a leadership challenge later that year with 62 percent support.
  • In the 2017 election, support for Labour went up from 30 to 40 percent.
  • Pro-European lawmakers, who want to keep Britain in the European single market, have been sidelined.
  • Veterans of the previous Labour government have been banished to the backbenches in favor of less experienced, and less critical, politicians.