The beginning of the end for mainstream politics:
By Center for Arab Progress
Nine Labour MP’s have split from the party after expressing discontent at the modes of operation of the party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Gavin Shuker were the original seven who stunned Westminster by holding a news conference announcing their decision on Monday morning.
Each of the MP’s made a statement expressing their justifications for opting to leave the party, and in a joint statement they have outlined their reasons for departure, saying their ‘progressive values’ have been ‘abandoned by today’s Labour Party.’
Just days after the initial seven MP’s quit, Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel and MP for Enfield North as well as Ian Austin, MP for North Dudley, followed suit.
All the MP’s, excluding Ian Austin, are now part of The Independent Group. There are indications they could eventually form a new political party aligned centrally, and there are even suggestions the new group could prop up Theresa May’s government in return for a second Brexit referendum.
Their statements and reasons for leaving cite Labour’s foreign policy, economic policy, Brexit stance, ideological dogma and anti-Semitism.
In fact, Luciana Berger, an outspoken critic of Jeremy Corbyn, who just recently refused to answer on live radio whether she had faith in his leadership, stipulated that she felt embarrassed and ashamed to be in the Labour Party because of the anti-Semitism that had allegedly become rife.
The former Labour Friends of Israel director is one of many Labour MP’s who have perpetually besmirched Corbyn and weaponised the concept of anti-Semitism as a means to undermine him. In fact, the prominent architects of the unceasing crippling of Corbyn are predominantly those that have now parted ways with the party.
Interestingly, the move can be interpreted as an act of survival. Many of the MP’s were on weak ground in the Labour Party anyway and potentially on borrowed time. For example, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Luciana Berger were all facing deselection in their constituencies, meanwhile Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey had served in parliament for several decades and were deliberating quitting in the near future regardless. Certainly would not be farfetched to suggest such a manoeuvre was a vanity contest and a careerist endeavour.
Nevertheless, in response to their decisions to splinter, Corbyn expressed robust disappointment. He stated ‘I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945’.
Indeed, the Labour Party is now one of the biggest parties in Western Europe with more than half a million members, and a grassroots movement in Momentum that is committed to spreading the Corbyn agenda and ensuring the existing sizeable support increments.
Exceedingly, with the assistance of Momentum, in the last general election, where Labour trailed the Conservatives by 20 points in some polls, a political earthquake manifested in which Corbyn startled the nation. With the help of the stalwart support from the younger generation, he won 40% of the votes and stripped Theresa May of her governing majority in the largest increase in the share of the vote by a Labour leader since Clement Attlee in 1945.
Areas in the South of England such as Plymouth and Canterbury, which for years had been no go areas for Labour, were won by Corbyn, and convincingly.
Despite constantly being on the receiving end of malicious and inflammatory criticism, he remained bullish and steadfast, and has consequently taken Labour to within touching distance of government.
But the unrelenting smearing has not waned. Ann Coffey proclaimed ‘the current leadership has been successful in changing the party beyond recognition’. Her sentiments may be agenda driven, but the validity is error-free. The party is indeed beyond the recognition of the Blairite days, whereby privatisation, deregulation, tax cuts and foreign intervention were championed.
Instead, now the Labour party stands for creating an economy that works for all, increasing social security, workers’ rights for all and an equal society.
The monumental shift in outlook in the Labour Party was discernible in the latest annual conference, whereby a motion advocating a debate on Palestine was backed with 188,000 votes, ranking it fourth in the list of priorities, ahead of Brexit and the NHS. Similarly, a motion in favour of freezing arms sales to Israel passed with an overwhelming majority of votes.
It is no wonder Mike Gapes, the MP who voted in favour of the Iraq intervention, against an investigation into it and in favour of Britain’s arms trade with Saudi Arabia has decided to depart.
A progressive left wing party that is shedding its neo-liberal past and striving for a better society is clearly not satisfying those who appear more aligned with the Conservatives than Labour, hence their classifying of the party as one that has been ‘hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left’.
However, Labour is not alone when it comes to broad party divisions. On Wednesday, just 48 hours after the initial Labour split, three Conservative ministers jumped ship to The Independent Group too, which takes the total tally of MP’s from both parties quitting to twelve.
Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote a joint letter to Theresa May to confirm their departure, and alluded to the failings of their party and leader, especially on Brexit, whilst concurrently emphasising that the party was witnessing a ‘shift to the far right’.
Accordingly, the fact Theresa May has on countless occasions moved to appease the European Research Group (ERG) which consists of nationalistic and ardent Brexiteers, who possess objectionable tendencies towards the European Union – the institution that stands for tolerance and integration – and are pressing for a no-deal Brexit, whereby they reference Britain’s imperialist past as evidence that isolation works, adds legitimacy to such claims.
Thus, Brexit appears to have accelerated the process of polarization in the UK, with the public and now MP’s, opting to identify as Leavers or Remainers as opposed to aligning with a particular party, as eleven of the twelve MP’s who split, advocate for the UK to stay in the EU or for another referendum.
Moreover, with a clutch of MP’s from both mainstream parties abandoning their political homes in a bid to join what could become a centrist party, it illustrates the middle ground is no longer commonplace in British politics.
Importantly, the events that have unfolded in Britain over the past week are not a new phenomenon but rather symptoms of the predicament of wider Europe. The mainstream political parties that shaped the landscape of Europe following the Second World War are ebbing in influence as the respective right and left lean towards the peripheries of the political spectrum.
This was evinced by a survey conducted recently by Ipsos MORI that asked people whether they felt that ‘traditional parties and politicians’ cared about people like them and represented them. The replies were sobering. 47 percent of people in Germany, 51 percent in Italy, 57 percent in Britain, 64 percent in Hungary, and 67 percent in France felt that they had been abandoned by the old guard and felt mainstream parties were no more.
Captivatingly, the current climate is akin to that of 1929 whereby disillusionment and distrust was rife, which paved the way for an economic recession and the outbreak of fascism that had destructive consequences.
Therefore, the fact mainstream parties and their outlooks are slumping in influence and support, and revolutionary and insurgent ideas on each end of the spectrum are flourishing, indicates contemporary politics is undergoing transformative change yet again.
Ultimately, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are not the first to experience divisions and profound change, and they will not be the last. They are merely the latest ingredient in this developing cocktail of political realignment.