THE Independent Group is changing the Parliamentary dynamic. If Labour doesn’t address why it has come to exist, it will also change the electoral landscape.
As the eight Independent Group MPs left the party they each gave reasons for doing so. While some do not believe in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership or his stance on the EU, particular reference was made to the toxic culture of bullying and antisemitism within the party.
It is important that we remember these concerns are real for many Labour MPs and members, and they should not be dismissed out of hand. Viewing these issues purely as excuses for attacking the Labour Party leadership or seeking careerist opportunities is not just blinkered but also aids the Independent Group’s cause, potentially denting Labour’s own electoral chances.
Instead, we must address the root causes behind the splits. Labour is more than capable of hosting different views. We are, after all, the party where Tony Benn was a member of Harold Wilson’s cabinet, or where Corbyn and McDonnell had a place on the benches during Blair’s government. Being a broad church is an electoral asset, not a hindrance.
We must change the atmosphere. We are on the same side. We need to end the online harassment, stop using labels such as ‘Blairite’ or ‘Corbynista’, and create an environment for creative debate and discussion with all opinions on policy equal in their merit and vital for creating a credible manifesto. If someone is scared of expressing their views for fear of being labelled a ‘traitor’ or a ‘scab’, then we are failing as a movement.
Just this week we have seen threats of violence and an actual attack, on Angela Rayner and Jeremy Corbyn respectively. Online abuse continues to grow exponentially on all sides of the Labour Party with members cancelling their subscriptions as a result. This is unacceptable and has to stop. We need to spend less time fighting each other and more time fighting the Conservatives.
Antisemitism has become a stain on our party. We have to do better in tackling this scourge by taking swift action against perpetrators and speeding up investigations in order to restore faith within the Jewish community. Regardless of how the situation looks to the electorate, it is the right thing to do.
This is not to say that we should be shutting down debate on the actions of the Israeli government. We should strive to highlight breaches of international law, whilst also championing the cause of a two-state solution. At the same time, it is important that we recognize not every Israeli citizen is responsible for the actions of their government – and neither are British Jews, many of whom are Labour Party supporters, members and MPs. Such rhetoric needs to stop.
The worst offences of anti-Semitism should result in expulsion from our party, but there must be opportunities for those whose behaviour stems from ignorance to undertake education on antisemitism, as was the case with Naz Shah who was reinstated to the Labour Party in 2016.
However, we still hear this issue being dismissed as just ‘0.08%’ of the membership, or labelled as a ‘smear campaign’. Yes, it is inevitable that some will use the antisemtisim row in order to attack the party leadership and that is itself unacceptable. But this does not mean that all claims of antisemtism are bogus. All claims should be treated seriously and investigated fully and transparently.
Dismissing the problem will only exacerbate the situation and further alienate our Jewish membership, but it also risks strengthening the Independent Group. If they target Labour-held seats with concentrated Jewish populations in the future, their message could break through.
Forget about drawing parallels with the SDP. We are in a different political climate. The message of the Independent Group will resonate with many within the Labour Party and, if given enough coverage, the general public. If we attack these concerns rather than solving them, this will be reflected in the press, potentially affecting votes and results in marginal constituencies, handing the Conservatives power at the next election.
We need to embrace those who may still be contemplating leaving, both literally and electorally, rather than aggravating their reasons for doing so.
The author of this piece, is a Cheltenham Labour Party member who wishes to remain anonymous.