Labour Party defectors: who are the gang of seven?
- Group of Labour MPs quit party to form independent group
- MPs criticise Labour's Brexit strategy and racism and antisemitism in the party
- Led by Chuka Umunna, the group have ruled out calling by-elections
Seven Labour MPs have quit the party to form their own independent group.
The group, which includes Stockport MP Ann Coffey, has quit in protest to racism and antisemitism in the party as well as its approach to Brexit.
But the group have been criticised themselves for serving their own interests and hypocrisy on the issue of racism.
So, who are the seven and what does each individual want?
Most relevant to Manchester is Ann Coffey, the MP for Stockport. She has been the MP for the area since 1992 and has led an interesting career. She was the private secretary to Tony Blair for a year starting in 1997 and was later private secretary to Alastair Darling when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2007-2010. She has led campaigns concerning child sexual exploitation in the Greater Manchester area and was an advocate for trying rape cases without juries, saying juries could be prejudiced by 'rape myths'.
However, she voted in support of going to war in Iraq in 2003. During the expenses scandal, she was found to have passed on £1k a month in mortgage interest for her second home to the taxpayer as well as £160 a month for a cleaner. She won her parliamentary seat from the Conservatives in 1992 and has enjoyed a healthy increase in her majority ever since. It will be interesting to see how she will fare against a Labour candidate in the next election.
"Any criticism of the leadership is met with abuse and accusations of treachery. Anti-semitism is rife and tolerated."— ITV Granada Reports (@GranadaReports) February 18, 2019
Stockport MP Ann Coffey lends her support to the group of seven Labour MPs who have resigned from the party.
Read more here: https://t.co/szu56qeAww pic.twitter.com/sr788OjrcH
Chuka Umunna is the MP for Streatham in London and leader of the independent group. He was a vocal campaigner for Remain during the 2016 referendum and has been ardent in his support for a second referendum more recently. He joined Labour while Blair was in power and the party was more centrally aligned. He has been critical of the party's leadership since Jeremy Corbyn took over and moved the party to the left.
Umunna is a member of Labour Friends of Israel, which puts him directly in conflict with Corbyn's criticism of the Israeli government's policy on the Palestinian state. He was elected in 2017 opposing a second referendum, but later gave his support to the People's Vote movement. He has been criticised for trying to appeal to middle-class traditionally conservative voters at the expense of Labour's traditional working-class base. Whether that's good or bad is up to you to decide, but he might struggle to retain his seat should his constituents decide they want a Labour MP.
My colleagues and I are in a privileged position as MPs to not just complain about the same old politics but have a duty and ability to do something about it. Join us to #ChangePolitics: https://t.co/sUATcrg8CN pic.twitter.com/LHjebXjNvw— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) February 19, 2019
Angela Smith is the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, and formally of Sheffield Hillsborough before boundary changes. She was voted Constituency MP of the Year in 2011-12 for campaigning against axing £80m investment to Sheffield forgemasters and campaigned with Queen guitarist Brian May against the proposed badger cull.
In a stunning display of irony, Smith referred to ethnic minorities as having a 'funny tinge' shortly after announcing her resignation from Labour partially due to the party's issue with racism.
She also spoke out against Jeremy Corbyn's plan to nationalise water industries, and was later found to have been taken out to dinners by a subcontractor of (private) Anglian Water. During the expenses scandal it was revealed she had claimed for four beds in a one bedroom flat. Her majority is small and it seems likely she will not survive the next election. Whether she is succeeded by a new Labour candidate or a Tory candidate is currently anybody's guess.
I'm really sorry that I misspoke earlier on Politics Live - here's my statement. pic.twitter.com/7csM95TFLo— Angela Smith MP (@angelasmithmp) February 18, 2019
Like Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes won his seat, in Ilford South, from the Tories in 1992 and has since increased his majority to make it a safe seat. He is largely in favour of Remaining in the EU and has also long spoke about the rights of Kurds in the middle east.
However, comments about Christians in the middle east have led a number of Muslim groups to campaign against him for being allegedly islamaphobic. He voted in favour of the Iraq War in 2003. He was critical of Corbyn's refusal to meet Theresa May without her taking no deal off the table, saying the Labour leader had been prepared to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah without preconditions.
Given his large majority, he will likely survive the next election as an independent, but all major parties will be eyeing up his seat.
The former Labour MP for Ilford South, @MikeGapes has told BBC Essex that he has no intention of stepping down and forcing a by-election. He was one of 7 #Labour MP's to break away and form an Independent Party yesterday. pic.twitter.com/8hUE6ziLGQ— BBC Essex (@BBCEssex) February 19, 2019
Luciana Berger is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree and has long been critical of alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party as she is Jewish herself. She has received a history of antisemitic abuse from across the political spectrum since her election to office in 2010. However, she has also been criticised of playing the race card, claiming that motions of no confidence were made against her because she was Jewish, with no proof this was the case.
She has served as a director of Labour Friends of Israel which puts her, like Chuka Umunna, at odds with Corbyn because of his solidarity with Palestinian rights. Berger has been criticised for being overly and needlessly critical of Jeremy Corbyn. She has suffered from a lot of antisemitic abuse, but her suggestion that it stems from Corbyn's leadership of the party has made people distrust her. She has a large majority, but Wavertree is a traditionally Labour area and might favour a Labour candidate rather than her as MP.
Despite my very best efforts, I have seen the Labour Party allow antisemitism to take root and fester. I see no evidence that there is zero tolerance towards antisemites in Labour's ranks. pic.twitter.com/YrZYJLPEa9— Luciana Berger (@lucianaberger) February 18, 2019
Chris Leslie is the MP for Nottingham East and was formally the MP for Shipley in Yorkshire, where he was voted out of office at the 2005 election. Previously to that he voted in favour of the Iraq War.
It is unsurprising Chris Leslie has left, as he had lost a vote of no confidence within Labour, with it being claimed he was making the party 'unelectable'. As an independent he won't have to worry about being deselected and can therefore stand as a candidate at the next election, but he is unlikely to win in a traditionally safe Labour area.
Gavin Shuker has been the MP for Luton South since 2010. Like Chris Leslie, it's unsurprising he's resigned as he lost a vote of no confidence within his constituency party. Shuker has threatened his own resignation a number of times. As a Christian, he opposed same-sex marriage and said he would resign if Ed Milliband whipped MPs to support it. He has also threatened to quit due to Jeremy Corbyn's policies and alleged anti-semitism.
He is unlikely to survive the next election, and it seems Labour were already confident they could win with another candidate. The Conservatives are not too far behind in this area, however, and will also be eyeing up this seat now.
What is the group?
The Independent Group is not a registered political party, rather an agreement between the seven MPs. The group is funded by Gemini A Ltd, a company owned by Gavin Shuker which, as the group is not a party, can donate unlimited sums to the group. The MPs say they are funding themselves.
Despite allegations of racism and anti-semitism, specific examples are difficult to come by. Though racist and antisemitic abuse does exist within the Labour party, it is not worse than that of the general population. Maybe Labour leadership should be doing more to make their party more inclusive, but it should be noted it's easy to claim treatment is specifically unfair from a particular organisation without holding up a lens to others.
The group, in various forms, opposes Brexit and wants a second referendum on EU withdrawal. In this sense they are perhaps more closely aligned with the Liberal Democrats, although leader Vince Cable said he would work with the group, but the Lib Dems would not be 'subsumed' by them.
The MPs have been criticised for damaging Labour's chances of winning a general election and giving more power to the Tories, leading many to label them traitors. As it is the Gang of Seven will likely make little change, with most of them likely to lose their seats to Labour-fielded candidates at the next election. Chuka Umunna will probably survive given he is well known and his constituency's support for Remain, but the other six may well have doomed their political careers.
However, if more MPs resign from Labour and join the Independent Group, Corbyn's party will be in trouble. Some Conservative MPs are also being rumoured to want to join the group. More will unfold over the coming weeks and we will have to wait until the next election to see how it all plays out.