The breakaway group of Labour MPs are more united than what they are not than what they are. Nevertheless, their position statement is revealingby Tom Clark / February 19, 2019 / Leave a comment
After endless months of speculation, we finally know who the MPs are who can longer tolerate life in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
Do we, however, have any idea of what they and their new “Independent Group” stand for? To an extent the answer is “no”—and by design.
In Westminster, they are hoping to lure a handful of Conservative colleagues they have spent a lifetime opposing to join them, a tricky task which will only get trickier the moment they start talking about specific policies. And in a country where many polls have shown “neither” besting both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the “best PM” stakes, positioning their new outfit as a “none of the above” party is arguably shrewd.
But even a proto-party can’t openly stand for nothing, and Labour’s seven leavers have published a statement spelling out their values. Although they brush off any comparison with the SDP, if you want to get a sense of the ideas animating them, it is instructive to measure their words against the Limehouse Declaration that the Gang of Four issued in January 1981. That came at a similar stage of the SDP adventure—a couple of months before the formal creation of their new political party.
Although it is forgotten now, this—like Brexit—felt like a moment of national emergency. Until the 80s, it had been assumed that unemployment of over a million was unsustainable politically and socially. But the deepest recession since the war was taking hold, joblessness was rocketing towards triple that, and, on her quest for sound money, Margaret Thatcher appeared to regard it with equanimity.
The starting points for both breakaways was a howl of anguish against the condition of the Labour party. Indeed, the splitters of 1981—who eventually managed to recruit only a single Tory MP, Christopher Brockleback-Fowler—were more upfront about this in their statement.
Limehouse opens by decrying the “calamitous outcome” of a special Labour conference which had removed MPs’ monopoly on picking their leader and handed much of the say to the trade unions. The anti-Semitic aspect of the recent factional agitation against Luciana Berger lent the new group’s attack on Labour in their press conference a particular moral force, but in their formal statement they are—by contrast with the Social Democrats—keen…