Ian Murray: Exodus of MPs puts Labour at a crossroads

If someone last weekend had offered me a break from the Brexit shambles for a whole week I would have bitten their hand off.
Luciana Berger MP addresses a press conference. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PALuciana Berger MP addresses a press conference. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Luciana Berger MP addresses a press conference. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Unfortunately, we got a break from Brexit, but the repercussions for our politics could be long-lasting.

I was saddened but not surprised when nine of my Labour colleagues and friends left the Labour Party.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In these circumstances I would have thought that it would be a seminal moment for the leadership of any organisation which has just lost some of its brightest and best to pause, reflect, and reach out the hand of friendship. But, so far, not in this instance.

Some have greeted their departure with a sense of triumphalism that they are “not Labour” or “should join the Tories”. Others have spent the last few years hounding, harassing and bullying those very MPs in order to force them to leave the Labour Party. I think they are all missing the point.

I’m angry at that approach but I am angrier at the reaction from the Labour leadership. What we needed last Monday was a moment for reflection.

The MPs who have resigned their lifelong association with the Labour Party have taken this heartbreaking decision not as an act of sabotage or spite but as a very last resort at a situation they felt was untenable.

They also set out a challenge to the Labour Party leadership. Those challenges should have been thought about and dealt with. But instead we got a cloth-eared response that essentially dismissed their concerns.

I’ve never been involved in the professional world of human resources, but I am sure in any other organisation there would have been a little bit of soul searching to ensure no others would leave, and to try and address the fundamentally important reasons for their leaving in the first place.

And the challenges they set are fundamental.

They rightly said that the current official Labour Party position to prevent a public vote with the option to remain in the EU, which is the Labour Party policy agreed at our conference, was not in the national interest, and is playing members and the rest of the country for “fools”.

They rightly said that the Labour Party was lack-lustre at best and turning a blind eye at worst to the scourge of anti-Semitism that seems to be enveloping the party.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They said that the bullying and intimidation of MPs was unbearable and this was being tolerated by the Labour leadership’s inability or unwillingness to do anything about it.

And they rightly said that the current Labour Party was only that in name and the party they joined was no longer the one they recognised today.

There is little doubt that our politics is broken, and the party system is breaking down.

Many voters see themselves as being politically homeless and that is why the new Independent Group should not just be dismissed.

If they capture the imagination of the public, demonstrate that our politics is broken, develop policies for all of the country, and guide themselves by the national interest, they will talk to a very large number of voters. At the very least, they may well recalibrate British politics.

So, the Labour Party is at a crossroads. The leadership can either see the events of this week as a wake-up call and try to address the issues that have been raised or they can carry on with business as usual. I would plead with them to go with the former, but I fear they have already set the trajectory for the latter.

If they take the wrong route now the public will look for something that better reflects their hopes and aspirations for a credible alternative government to this wretched Tory administration and it won’t be anyone’s fault but their own.

I have no plans to join them, but Tom Watson MP was correct when he said, “I love this party. But sometimes I no longer recognise it.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Those who have left have put the Labour Party on notice and I certainly don’t blame them for standing up for what they believe in. I just wish the Labour leadership would recognise the problem and listen, acknowledge, reflect, and reform.

Ian Murray is Labour MP
for Edinburgh South