An eighth 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 MP (@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