Seven anti-Corbyn politicians break from the Labour party over concerns of anti-Semitism — but Brexit implications lurk in the background.
Seven members of Parliament have quit the British Labour party, citing anti-Semitism, far-left thuggery, and Brexit mishandling under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The Conservative party may be increasingly shambolic, but polling shows that Labour is even less popular. The seven defectors have named themselves the “Independent Group,” and they hope more MPs will join them. Time will tell.
“I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic,” said Luciana Berger, who has endured sustained anti-Semitic attacks and accordingly had a bodyguard at the party’s annual conference last year. Chris Leslie added, “We did everything we could to save it, but it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard Left.”
Jeremy Corbyn expressed his disappointment “that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together.” But even his own deputy, Tom Watson, conceded, “I love this party but sometimes I no longer recognize it.”
Since April, the Labour party has received 673 official complaints, according to its National Executive Committee, of anti-Semitism and has suspended 96 individuals. Much of this is visible at the grassroots level, for instance, in the movement Momentum (Jeremy Corbyn’s unofficial fan club), which was described last year by a Labour backbencher as “a party within a party” full of “Trots, Stalinists, Communists, and assorted hard-left” activists for whom “anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is fundamental to their politics and their values.”
Since becoming leader, Corbyn has been personally implicated in a number of anti-Semitic scandals. Britain’s former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, compared Corbyn’s derogatory remarks about “Zionists” to Enoch Powell’s 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech. A survey conducted by the Jewish Chronicle found that 40 percent of British Jews say they would consider leaving the United Kingdom if Corbyn were to become prime minister.
But while opposition to glaring anti-Semitism is reasonable grounds for leaving the party, why now? The answer to this is that the creation of the “Independent Group” is also a Brexit-induced faction — one that has been a long time coming.
Polling suggests that over two-thirds of Labour-party members want a second referendum. But, on this front, Corbyn has been uncompromising. A lifelong socialist Euroskeptic, Corbyn may harbor pro-Brexit sympathies but has opted to stay quiet during the national debate for tactical reasons. Other than to point out the obvious problems Theresa May faces — and to call her a “stupid woman” — he seems to hope that Tories will do his dirty work for him in pushing through Brexit.
Perhaps the most-high profile Labour MP of the Independent Group, Chuka Umunna, said that Corbyn’s approach to Brexit was a “betrayal” of the British people.
As for their alternative?
So far, the faction appears to be vaguely centrist, hoping to reach across the parties (some Tories also favor a second referendum). Umunna added that he hopes the IG will provide a home for the “politically homeless.” He said: “We invite you to leave your parties and join us to find a new way forward for Britain.”
It is one of the quirks of modern democracy that voters elect individuals, but that parties decide policies. Since coalitions are a feature of most European states, policy outcomes depend on how well the parties can compromise. But in the U.K.’s unexpected 2017 general-election results, no party won a majority. And the result has been two years of internal division, political paralysis, and procedural chaos.
But in the 2017 general election, there was high turnout among young voters aligned with Corbyn’s Labour party. Corbyn’s achievement over the past two years has been to mobilize such people, despite his vain, ignorant, and duplicitous personality.
In Parliament, on the other hand, support for Corbyn is in short supply. As the Conservative MP and environment secretary Michael Gove said in the House of Commons shortly before the government’s recent confidence vote:
Who does he [Corbyn] stand beside? Well, it was fascinating to discover that that he was there when a wreath was laid to commemorate those who were involved in the massacre at the Munich Olympics of Israeli. Now, he says he was ‘present, but not involved’.
‘Present but not involved’ sums him up when it comes to national security. When this House voted to bomb the fascists of Isis after an inspirational speech by the Member for Leeds Central in which 66 people voted with this government in order to defeat fascism. I’m afraid that the honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was not with us. In fighting fascism, he was present but not involved. . . .
If the leader of the Opposition won’t stand up against Putin when he attacks people in this country, if he won’t stand up against fascists when they are running riot in Syria, if he will not stand up for this country when critical national security questions are being asked — then how could we possibly expect him to stand up for us at European negotiations?
That sentiment is commonly held across the country according to a recent YouGov poll, which found that only one in five voters think that Corbyn would be a better prime minister than Theresa May.
As for whether a meager seven individuals can attract more to their ranks and rescue British politics — this seems far-fetched. Whether they will, as shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned yesterday, risk the downfall of the Labour party and a decade of Tory government — that, too, is a stretch. Rather, the “Independent Group” are symbolic and symptomatic of a politics and country in crisis.