If The Independent Group really believes in accountability, it’ll do the right thing and hold by-elections

The democratic thing for the Labour defectors to do is resign and put their new ‘independence’ to the test. The days of speaking up while standing for nothing are over

Jon Trickett
Monday 18 February 2019 19:07
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John McDonnell says former Labour MPs who quit party should contest by-election

The Labour Party has always been home to many different political traditions, all united with the common goal of getting a Labour government and social justice. I disagreed with some things New Labour did but I rolled my sleeves up and contributed where I thought we could make a positive difference.

It never once occurred to me that a Labour government was worse than a Tory one, and in my view, you cross a line when you’re elected as a Labour MP but don’t want the leader of the Labour Party to be prime minister.

Of course, I am firmly of the opinion that we in the Labour Party should not tolerate the abuse of MPs or anyone in our movement, and we must be ruthless in stamping out antisemitism, as Jeremy Corbyn has said.

I’m saddened by the news that seven of my colleagues have taken the decision to leave the Labour Party and stand on a different platform – it’s a blow to all of us in the PLP when we lose even one of our number. But I am also disappointed.

One of the seven, Gavin Shuker, said that the reason they have decided to leave the party is because they felt “accountable to those that elect us”.

In response to this I say: if you truly believe in accountability, then do the right thing and gain the legitimacy of the people you represent by holding a by-election.

After all, their constituents voted for a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.

And those MPs that have now left us saw a massive increase in their share of the vote in the 2017 general election because they stood for the values of the Labour Party, not those of The Independent Group.

From knocking on thousands of doors it was clear to me at the time that the launch of Labour’s manifesto was a turning point during the general election.

A few years ago, under the failed politics of the past, it often seemed as if there weren’t substantial policy differences between the two major parties. When Corbyn became leader of the party, Labour returned to its roots: its values of equality and social justice.

We offered a change to the status quo and people grabbed it with both hands. This was proved at the ballot box, with Labour winning the biggest rise in its vote since 1945.

These seven MPs stood on the very same Labour manifesto, and benefited from it. From today onwards they are standing on a different platform. It is the democratic and right thing to do for them to resign and put their new “independence” and their proclaimed values to the test.

I believe that if they have courage and faith in their beliefs, they will let the people who live in the areas they represent have a say.

But there’s a reason they’re reluctant to do so. It’s because they’re scared of losing their seats in parliament. The centre ground of British politics has shifted, and policies that were popular only less than a decade ago are much less so now.

A new political consensus has emerged, following on from the financial crash and years of harsh austerity imposed across the country by the Tories. Labour under Corbyn is the new mainstream now and our support from the electorate proves it. Yet The Independent Group appears not to have realised this.

At a time when the Tories are bungling Brexit and failing to propose any solutions to the problems faced by the UK, Labour MPs should be coming together to create a unifying and credible alternative plan for Brexit.

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At home, we can tackle the misery of universal credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty. With the support of our members and the electorate, we can implement the radical, popular policies in our manifesto to create a society that works for the many, not the few.

The last thing that’s needed is a vague rehash of an old politics that has over the last decade so comprehensively failed – and it is very much old-style politics when MPs insist they know best and shy away from their constituents.

The days of speaking up while standing for nothing are over. The country knows it, it’s time politicians realised it too.

Jon Trickett is MP for Hemsworth and shadow minister for the cabinet office

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