Labour’s course has been cast wayward today after the long-rumoured mutineers finally reared their heads in a show that may prove to be a significant challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s captaincy. The seven MPs cite Mr Corbyn’s leadership as well as his handling of anti-Semitism from within party as reasons to breakaway. The seven have stated their intentions to reinvigorate the centrist foothold within Parliament in a time where extremes are all the range, as well as this the so-called ‘Independent Group’ have vigorously pro-EU leanings and are openly calling for a second referendum.
The seven MPs thus far include Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes and Gavin Shuker but their disenfranchised sentiment is not isolated. Deputy leader Tom Watson said earlier today “I love this party — but sometimes I no longer recognise it,”. This has been the first instance of party resignations since Mr Corbyn’s leadership victory back in 2015.
Mr Corbyn, who has overseen a sharp U-turn away from Blair and Brown’s centrist legacy, has thus far proven to be a polarising figure within the party itself. The left-leaning leader stated his “disappointment” in the seven.
Unlike the ‘Gang of Four’ back in 1981, in which David Owen spearheaded a Labour split and led to the formation of the SDP, the seven lack both the high public profile and experience that the founders of the SDP had. They have made it clear that as a result of a finite budget that they will not be forming a new party but instead intend to stand as a group of united independents – hence the name ‘Independent Group’.
However, whilst a sincere lacking in faith towards Corbyn is among the reasons for the split, the seven have mainly played this card in a last-ditch effort to curtail Brexit, even going as far as to coerce pro-EU Conservative MPs over to their side. Mr Corbyn has been steadfast in seeing that the UK does leave the EU come the 29th of March, however many Labour MPs see his strategy as ambiguous and vague. The party took a pro-remain stance during the referendum however Mr Corbyn had always been hesitant to throw his hands aloft and openly laud the EU.
But support for Mr Corbyn within the party has certainly been vocal and strong, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell stated that “honourable thing for them to do” would be to step down and stand in by-elections. However, the more extreme condemnations towards the seven came from the likes of the party’s youth wing, Young Labour, the likes of whom denounced the group as “traitors” and “cowards.
External reactions have also been mixed with Liberal Democrats providing a more open-armed reception, stating how the party is “open to working with like-minded groups”. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage had this to say on Twitter: “This moment may not look very exciting but it is the beginning of something bigger in British politics”.