What the 7 MPs who quit Labour have in common is their voting records supporting welfare cuts, privatisation and foreign intervention, writes Mona Kamal
I met Chuka Umunna at a conference in January 2016 a week before the first day of strike action by junior doctors. I invited him to visit our picket in South West London on one of the strike days or failing that, to express support for junior doctors on social media. He refused both, saying that whilst he was “totally behind our wonderful junior doctors”, Labour MPs should not be seen expressing support for all-out strike action. He then asked if I’d like a selfie with him.
It was no surprise to me that Chuka Umunna, a media-savvy Blairite, would be more concerned about the optics of being seen on a picket than showing support for NHS workers, despite admitting that this was clearly the right thing to do. Chuka Umunna has consistently shown extraordinary levels of self interest and fickleness, as evidenced by his vehement opposition to the idea of a second referendum after the Leave vote in 2016 before making a spectacular U-turn to demand a second referendum on the final deal when he realised that adopting this position would bring him some prominence and be a handy vehicle to further his own career interests.
After spending the last 2 years undermining his party and openly attacking its leader Chuka Umunna finally resigned from the Labour party along with Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie and Ann Coffey to form the so-called moderate ‘Independent Group’.
Putting aside the chaos and genuine hilarity of Monday’s events, which has included Angela Smith making racial slurs on national television (hashtag funnytinge) hours after she had identified growing racism within the Labour Party as a reason for her resignation, it is crucial to pause and allow for an objective assessment of what these MPs really stand for, their principles and crucially their voting records.
First off looking at the issue of Tory austerity and welfare reform in particular. Surely amongst the most basic requirements of a Labour MP is to oppose a programme of ideological cuts which punishes the poorest and most vulnerable and which has destroyed our welfare state. However, all seven of these MPs were among those who refused to vote down these reforms in 2015. There had been clear warnings that hundreds of thousands of children would be negatively impacted if these proposed cuts went ahead, with single mothers being hit the hardest. Yet in contrast to the Labour leader, all seven abstained, and the result: a record 4.5 million children living below the poverty line (as measured in 2018). In addition to this, one could argue that if in 2015 Ed Milliband had provided a robust opposition to the Tory austerity being imposed, then Labour would not have suffered such a significant defeat in that general election. The reason that did not happen was down to one Chris Leslie who was amongst the main authors of the ‘austerity-lite’ manifesto.
Another of the catastrophic Tory policies was the creation of the hostile environment. This was Theresa May’s flagship policy of “deport now, hear appeals later” during her time at the Home Office. Again, not one of the seven MPs in the Independent group opposed this bill - an extreme policy designed to appease the right and which has resulted in the deportation of immigrants who had resided in the UK for decades and seen others denied access to NHS care. And yet it is the Labour leader, amongst a handful of MPs that opposed this racist anti-immigrant bill, who is branded an extremist.
The charge of ‘terrorist sympathiser’ could accurately be levelled at Mike Gapes for his support and advocacy for the brutal Saudi regime. Despite allegations by the UN of war crimes in Yemen, Mike Gapes has repeatedly opposed calls for sanctions on Saudi arms sales – this, whilst being the beneficiary of lavish Saudi hospitality with all-expense paid trips provided by the Kingdom. Mr Gapes is also famous for not only voting for the Iraq war but for repeatedly voting against inquiries into the invasion.
Before the extraordinary gaffe of describing BME communities as “being a funny tinge” during a debate on racism, Angela Smith’s most noteworthy contributions were in opposing the popular Labour manifesto commitment to renationalise the water industry. Studies have shown that an overwhelming majority of the population are in favour of the plans popularised by the Labour leader for public ownership of the main industries. 83% of those polled were in favour of nationalising the water industry (with 77% for nationalising electricity and gas and 76% for renationalising the railways) and yet despite this, late last year, Angela Smith argued that nationalising the water industry must be resisted and would merely be an “expensive indulgence in the politics of the past”. It later emerged that she had vested interests in the water industry and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Water Group which is funded almost entirely by the water industry (namely Affinity Water, Northumbrian Water and Wessex Water), and along with her husband had received lavish gifts from various water companies.
In an article for the Guardian a few months ago she described privatisation of the water industry in the late 1980s as “a pragmatic response to an environmental imperative” and goes on to describe herself as a “passionate environmentalist”, but this does not appear to be the case either. She has voiced support for fracking, dismissing concerns around the damage that shale gas extraction could have on the environment, stating that she did not think “those fears are justified at all”. Again these comments were made whilst she was sat on the parliamentary group for "Unconventional Oil and Gas", a body given more than £73k by pro-fracking lobbying firm Hill + Knowlton Strategies.
What’s especially galling is that whilst these 7 MPs have been motivated by a wish to undermine the leadership of the Labour party and it’s left agenda, it was this left agenda that they stood on at the general election in 2017 and which enabled them to increase their majorities. As John McDonnell said yesterday, now that they are standing on a markedly different platform by-elections must be called so that constituents are given the opportunity to select alternatives to their current pro-war, pro-austerity, pro-privatisation representatives.
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