The breaking news this morning is that a staggering seven Labour MP’s have resigned from the party this morning. In the press conference, each MP stood up and gave an emotional account of why they believe they can no longer remain a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. The main two reason were due to the party’s complicated Brexit position, as well as the terrible handling of the anti-Semitism crisis. There is no doubt that this is bad news for Jeremy Corbyn, as everyone knows that a split party is unelectable. Moreover, many voters will remember the infamous split and the emergence of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980’s. Whether this will be a serious problem for Labour is questionable, but this event certainly highlights the underlying emotion of many centrist Labour MP’s.
The seven Labour MP’s who resigned were Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey. In the press conference, there was emotion and shock as each MP stood up and boldly attacked the current leadership of the party. Many journalists and political commentators had predicted this and it was only a matter of time before these MP’s took action. There has been mixed reactions from political figures, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyb saying it was “disappointing”. Immediately, many pro-corbyn supporters, including Guardian journalist Owen Jones, demanded that they trigger a by-election. Former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said on twitter he was very saddened by the move from these MP’s.
However, one would expect a far bigger reaction when such a large number of MP’s are so upset and detached from the party that they felt they should resign. The obvious example of this is when Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless defected from the Conservatives to UKIP. This caused outrage amongst the Conservative ranks and utter mayhem in the political world. The main difference between the UKIP defections and today’s news is that it was not a surprise to see the likes of Chuka Umunna resign whereas nobody expected Douglas Carswell to defect. There is absolutely no doubt that Labour’s ideology has changed, and that people who were strong supporters of Blair do not know where to turn.
So the big question is whether history is repeating itself. The SDP was founded by the “big four” including Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams. They left the Labour Party after the 1981 conference due to its commitment to leaving the EEC, and their stance on nuclear disarmament. The SDP formed a political alliance with the Liberal Party, and this created a serious problem for Labour as it completely split their vote in the 1983 and 1987 General Elections. The reasons the SDP formed are very similar to that of why the Seven MP’s have left the Labour Party. Although the SDP only managed to receive 11% of the overall vote share in General Elections, this ensured that Conservatives won a large proportion of marginal seats.
The trends are remarkably similar, but the chances of these MP’s having the same impact on Labour are very small. This is down to a number of factors. Firstly, these MP’s have said they have no intention of forming a new political party, and this means for the time being that electorally Labour should not be too concerned. Secondly, Labour’s ideology and manifesto is still relatively popular. In the 2017 General Election, Labour did well not just because of Jeremy Corbyn, but also because of radical new policies which have not been seen from Labour since the previous century. The third reason is because the group are primarily focussed on stopping Brexit, and even if Article 50 is briefly extended, Brexit will be not be a primary talking point at the 2022 General Election.
There is absolutely no question that these resignations are a problem for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. However, the seriousness and the scale of the issue is not nearly as devasting and worrying as the SDP creation in the 1980’s. Nevertheless, if more Labour MP’s defect to this new independent group in parliament, then Labour must re-evaluate itself it wants any chance of winning a majority of seats at the next General Election.