An eighth UK Labour MP has quit the party to join the breakaway Independent Group in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Former minister Joan Ryan, who chaired Labour Friends of Israel, said that Mr Corbyn was not fit to be prime minister and the party had become “infected with the scourge of anti-Semitism” under his leadership.
Her announcement came as Labour launched a consultation on changes to allow voters to force MPs to seek re-election if they swap parties.
The proposed new right to recall comes after the launch on Monday of the Independent Group by seven ex-Labour MPs including former shadow ministers Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger and Chris Leslie.
Members of the new group have indicated they will resist demands from Labour bigwigs, including John McDonnell, to step down and seek a fresh mandate from voters in a by-election.
Ms Ryan, who has represented Enfield North since 1997 with a break from 2010-15 and served as a minister in Tony Blair’s government, made clear she is hoping for further defections.
In a letter to constituents, she said she hoped her actions would act as a “wake-up call” and “others will join us”.
Ms Ryan said that under Mr Corbyn, Labour had developed a “cult around the leader”, driven by an ” all-consuming narrative founded on rage, betrayal and the hunt for heretics”.
On the issue of anti-Semitism, she said: “I have been appalled and angered by the Labour leadership’s dereliction of duty in the face of this evil.”
And she added: “Jeremy Corbyn has enabled and allowed a toxic culture to develop in too many parts of the Labour Party.
“And I can’t be a part of it any longer. Which is why, with a heavy heart, I have left it.”
With a poll taken on the day after the Independent Group’s launch putting the breakaway MPs on 10% support to Labour’s 26% nationally, Mr Corbyn’s party would be hopeful of seizing back most if not all of the seats in by-election contests.
Although the Independent MPs may benefit from some personal support, all of their constituencies – with the exception of Angela Smith’s Penistone and Stocksbridge and Ms Ryan’s Enfield North – are rock-solid Labour seats which would need a substantial swing to change hands.
In an indication that Labour expects to hold on to much of its support in any by-election, party sources said that one of the key reasons for allowing recall when an MP crosses the floor is because people cast their vote primarily for the party and its platform rather than the candidate.
At present, recall petitions can only be launched in a handful of circumstances, such as a serious breach of parliamentary rules or a criminal conviction. A by-election is forced if the petition is signed by 10% of constituents – usually around 7,000 people – within six weeks.
Labour will consult on extending the principle to cover MPs who switch political allegiance.
After 4 decades, I have made the terribly difficult decision to resign from the Labour Party. It is the greatest honour of my life to represent the people of #EnfieldNorth. I will continue to represent and speak up for them as a member of the @TheIndGroup of MPs #ChangePolitics pic.twitter.com/W8UEsJG7Rh— Joan Ryan (@joanryanEnfield) February 19, 2019
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: “Power comes from the people but for too long the overwhelming majority have been shut out. That’s why trust in politics and in elites is rightly falling.
“Communities should not have to wait for up to five years to act if they feel their MP is not properly representing their interests, especially with the restrictions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
“This proposed reform has the dramatic potential to empower citizens and will be one of many measures the Labour Party is planning to consult on and announce that will change the way politics in this country is done.”
The developments are likely to reignite internal disagreements over the best response to the departure of MPs from the party’s centrist wing with a long record of dissent over Mr Corbyn’s stance on Brexit and his handling of anti-Semitism allegations.
Deputy leader Tom Watson has called for a shadow cabinet reshuffle to better reflect the breadth of opinion in the party and ensure that “all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation”.
At a stormy meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday, the leadership was repeatedly criticised for failing to deal with the issue of anti-Semitism within the party.
And Mr McDonnell accepted the need for the leadership to carry out a “mammoth, massive listening exercise” to address concerns.
Speaking at a conference of manufacturers in London on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn said he was “disappointed” the seven had decided to leave the party.
“I hope they recognise that they were elected to Parliament on a manifesto that was based around investment in the future, was based around a more equal and fairer society and based around social justice,” he said.
“They were elected to carry out those policies, they decided to go somewhere else and I regret that because I want our party to be strong, I want our party to be united around the policies that we have put forward.”
A Sky Data online poll of 1,034 voters on February 19 put the Independent Group in third place across Britain on 10%, ahead of Liberal Democrats on 9%, Ukip on 6% and the Greens on 4%. Conservatives were leading on 32% to Labour’s 26%.
The poll suggested that the new group could eat into the support of both main parties, with 37% of those who said they would back the IG in an election having voted Labour and 27% Conservative in 2017, while another 24% said they did not vote.
However, translating that level of support into actual votes at the ballot box would require the Group to stand candidates across the country, despite currently having no national structures.
- Press Association
Earlier: Jeremy Corbyn has been warned he faces more resignations by Labour MPs unless he gets a grip of the problem of anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks.
Party chairman Ian Lavery faced an angry backlash at a stormy meeting on Monday of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) after seven MPs earlier announced they were quitting in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
Labour sources said Mr Lavery stressed the leadership’s commitment to rooting out anti-Semitism at what was described as a “heated” behind-closed-doors gathering at Westminster.
But his claims were greeted with derision by some of those present with accusations that he failed to understand the “enormity” of the problem.
The clashes came at the end of a day which saw seven MPs walk out of the party, condemning Mr Corbyn’s stance on Brexit as well as his handling of the anti-Semitism issue, in potentially the most significant split in British politics for a generation.
Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey said they would be sitting as a new Independent Group in the Commons and urged MPs – from Labour and other parties – to join them.
The response from shadow chancellor John McDonnell was to call on the MPs to do “the honourable thing” and stand down from Parliament to contest by-elections.
But at the PLP, a number of MPs turned their fire on the leadership after Ms Berger, who is Jewish, told a press conference she was ashamed to be a member of a party which was “institutionally anti-Semitic”.
Mr Lavery was said to have have expressed anger at the claim, saying that if the party was anti-Semitic he would not be a member.
But he was challenged by other MPs who said he showed no understanding of the scale of the problem.
In an emotional intervention, Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth said she and another Jewish MP, Louise Ellman, had been told by a party member they did not have “human blood”, but no action had been taken against the individual concerned.
I agree with every word of this. It’s a very sad day for the Labour Party https://t.co/R9giBFQnXX— Ruth Smeeth (@RuthSmeeth) February 18, 2019
Afterwards Ms Ellman said. “It was appalling. He (Mr Lavery) showed no understanding of the enormity of what is going on.”
Ian Austin, a long-standing critic of Mr Corbyn’s leadership, said Mr Lavery’s performance had only made the situation worse.
“The party has got to show it is tackling anti-Semitism. I don’t think he came close to demonstrating the leadership understand the scale of the problem we have,” he said.
“I think it will result in people thinking long and hard about their position in the party.”
Another MP left the meeting saying: “It was a complete and utter waste of time – a dialogue of the deaf.”
A party source said Mr Lavery had spelt out the measures being taken to deal with the “appalling abuse”.
“Ian Lavery spoke about the party’s traditions as a broad church, in which there is a wide range of opinions, but we work together to build a brighter future for millions of people and transform our society,” the source said.
“He made clear the party’s absolute determination to root out anti-Semitism and the work that is being done to improve procedures to tackle this appalling abuse.”
Earlier however, deputy leader Tom Watson – who has been critical in the past of efforts to deal with anti-Semitism in the party – said he feared there could be further resignations.
“I confess I feared this day would come. And I fear now that unless we change, we may see more days like this,” he said.
He called on Mr Corbyn to reshuffle his frontbench team so it better reflected the balance of opinion in the PLP where many MPs reject the leader’s left-wing agenda.
- Press Association