Labour splits: is this the end of the two-party system?

This morning the long-expected split began in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Seven MPs resigned and will now sit as an ‘Independent Group’ in the House of Commons.

The group includes one relic of the 1990s New Labour project, Stockport MP Ann Coffey who was Tony Blair’s parliamentary private secretary. However another is Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, who during New Labour’s civil war was a supporter of Gordon Brown rather than Blair, and is married to one of Brown’s former aides.

Two others are among the most strongly pro-Zionist MPs in Parliament: Luciana Berger, Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and Mike Gapes, who though not Jewish himself is best known for his five years as a very pro-Zionist chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

It seems likely that some of Corbyn’s other Jewish critics have deliberately avoided joining the rebel group because they didn’t want it to be perceived as disproportionately Jewish. If significant numbers join the seven initial members, one would expect them eventually to include Dame Margaret Hodge and Dame Louise Ellman, though the latter has tweeted that she will continue to “fight the virus of antisemitism in the Labour Party from within”.

For the time being the “Independent Group” will not be a registered political party and will not fight elections. This avoids them having to contest the forthcoming local elections in May, where they would doubtless be crushed.

Chuka Umunna, effective leader of the Independent Group and once seen as a future Labour Prime Minister – has he committed political suicide?

Yet the intellectual leader of the group, half-Nigerian MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna, has strongly implied that he sees the group evolving into a new “centrist” party. Umunna is a former City lawyer whose maternal grandfather, Sir Helenus ‘Buster’ Milmo, was the leading MI5 interrogator during the Second World War before becoming a High Court judge.

Westminster has been rife with rumours for the last fortnight that Umunna was about to launch such a party alongside Anna Soubry and other fanatically pro-EU Conservatives. Perhaps these rebel Tories have been put off by the undoubted practical difficulties of launching a new party, but if Theresa May does eventually position the Conservative Party as unequivocally pro-Brexit, or if she is replaced by a Brexiteer such as Boris Johnson, we can assume Ms Soubry and a few others will team up with Mr Umunna.

According to an email circular this morning from Stephen Bush, the well-connected political editor of the New Statesman, it was Gavin Shuker, MP for Luton South, who helped persuade the other six that it was time for a formal split. Mr Shuker is an unusual character, who in one respect has nothing in common with New Labour ‘centrism’. Before standing for parliament in 2010 he was leader and pastor of the City Life Church in Luton: he opposes ‘gay marriage’ and has taken a number of other stances on ‘moral questions’ that put him at odds with the liberal consensus.

Gavin Shuker, the former Christian pastor who registered the limited company behind the new ‘Independent Group’ of MPs

The group is not registered as a party with the Electoral Commission, but it operates from an office in Altrincham, near Manchester, in the name of a limited company called ‘Gemini A Ltd’ which Shuker created on January 16th this year.

One of the Labour rebels, Angela Smith, MP for the marginal Yorkshire seat Penistone & Stocksbridge, made much of her working-class roots (in contrast to the well-heeled Umunna). But a problem for such people is that while working-class Britons might find their traditional Labour loyalties strained by Corbyn’s trendy-left, London-dominated Momentum faction, many such voters (including in Ms Smith’s own constituency) voted to leave the EU and remain pro-Brexit.

Anna Soubry, notoriously pro-EU MP for Broxtowe, and the most likely Tory to join Umunna’s ‘Independent Group’

Umunna’s “independents” have made it clear that being pro-EU and campaigning for a second referendum to overturn the 2016 result is a fundamental component of their so-called ‘centrism’.

That’s why the best known earlier anti-Corbyn rebel, Birkenhead MP Frank Field who quit Labour to sit as an independent last August, will certainly not be joining Umunna’s group. Similarly other anti-Corbyn MPs who might be thought on the right of Labour – Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and John Mann – will certainly not be on board.

In fact one might logically expect two Independent Groups to the right of Corbyn’s Labour – one pro-Brexit and one pro-Remain!

If this really is the long-overdue breakup of the two-party stranglehold on British politics, one eventual consequence will have to be a change in the electoral system.

Only then will we see a realistic chance for the views of forgotten millions of British voters to be represented at Westminster, and a real challenge to the dead consensus of multiracialism.

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