Chuka Umunna speaking at Chatham House, 2011.  Photo: Chatham House Chuka Umunna speaking at Chatham House, 2011. Photo: Chatham House

The left must respond by not giving an inch, instead pushing the leadership to return to a politics of insurgency, argues Alex Snowdon

The most immediate issue arising from the breakaway is this: will there be by-elections in the seven seats with newly-independent MPs? 

It is an outrage against democracy if the seven MPs intend to stay where they are. They were elected on a Labour ticket. Their constituents have been disenfranchised. These MPs campaign for a second referendum on leaving the EU – and claim this is such a fundamental issue that they must abandon the Labour Party over it – yet refuse to submit themselves to the most basic democratic accountability. 

The entire labour movement ought to demand that these MPs put themselves to the democratic test. Of course right-wing Labour MPs will be reluctant to make such a call, but a grassroots upsurge in the Labour Party and trade unions – combined with pressure from the left leadership – can shape what happens. 

Beyond that, it is important to recognise the breakaway for what it is – an anti-Labour wrecking operation that will benefit the Tories – and act accordingly. It is about exerting pressure to pull the centre of political gravity to the right. It therefore has the potential to be dangerous beyond what might be suggested by the tiny numbers involved. 

Some Labour right-wingers, like Scottish MP Ian Murray, are already using it as leverage, implying they could jump the same way if not given what they want. Making concessions to such people is pointless. Previous attempts to placate the neo-Blairites have only emboldened them. Labour will be stronger if it boldly and unashamedly builds on the breakthroughs represented by 2017’s ‘For the Many’ manifesto. 

That means further developing coherent left-wing policies. It means refusing to give ground to those loudly demanding a so-called People’s Vote and insisting, instead, that a general election is the people’s vote we need. That also means getting back on the front foot over the issues neglected by an obsessive Westminster and media focus on Brexit: housing, NHS, education, workers’ rights, climate change, and more. 

All of that can only be done through returning to a more insurgent style of politics, too. Get leading Labour figures – Corbyn above all – back out there and addressing rallies and public meetings. Mobilise Labour members and supporters behind the demand for a general election. Take inspiration from last week’s school student protests – use extra-parliamentary methods to fight for the labour movement’s demands across a range of issues.

Westminster is where ‘centrist’ hostility to the Corbyn project and left-wing politics (whether that hostility be located in or out of the Labour Party) is at its most potent. They are happy to deploy mass mobilisation to reinforce their manoeuvring at Westminster, as we will see with the ‘second referendum’ demonstration on 23 March. The left has to avoid getting trapped in the Westminster political orbit, and instead mobilise on the streets, to shape the outcomes of the current political crisis. 


Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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