In the last few days, British politics has been rocked by the revelations that first seven, then eight MPs have resigned from Labour over the party's mishandling of anti-Semitism, Brexit approach (or lack thereof) and being captured by the hard-left.
Then, three MPs resigned from the Conservative Party to join this new "Independent Group", for very similar reasons: the Party’s pursuit of Brexit; and a takeover by the hard-right, crudely termed 'Blukip' or 'Purple Momentum'.
Except, none of this was really a shock to anyone with their ear to the ground. The original Seven resignations all came from discontents in the Labour Party who have been vocal in support of a People's Vote, as well as their opposition to the direction pursued by Corbyn and his lot. Similarly, the three Tory MPs have all been famously been rebels for the past four years at least, and have progressively gained the ire of the Conservative grassroots. In many ways, these three are symbolic of the endemic problem the party has, specifically the split between traditionalists and modernisers.
But what will their impact be on the wider political scene in the UK? Is there anything holding them together, aside from their shared resistance to Brexit and belief that "politics is broken"?
On the left, the side who has lost the most MPs (so far), I believe we might see one of two things: a second Labour renaissance in a few years, much in the same way Labour experienced a renaissance in 1995. This is because the party is currently following a similar trajectory to that of the 1980s, in which it pushed increasingly left (and, increasingly farther and farther from the electorate) and now, with a few moderates gone, I believe that left-ward drift will only increase. Granted, the number of resignations is minimal, but if the Independent Group is successful in luring more moderates to their banner, then I believe the Labour Party brand will become eternally stained by the distinctly undemocratic socialism of Corbynism.
Consequently, a significant electoral defeat would put this brand of socialism to bed for another forty years – if indeed, they did lose. If Labour secured a victory, the renaissance might swing the other way; a truly Marxist party securing power in Britain for the first time in history. I think this is less likely, but at this stage we must consider all possibilities.
The other possibility for Labour is, sadly, it's disintegration. Even those of us on the right should be upset at the degradation of one of the proudest parties in the West, even if we disagree with their politics. The possibility of this rests, in my opinion, on whether the Independent Group’s left-wing contingent fields candidates at the next General Election. If they lose, Labour’s socialist drift will be vindicated; if they win, it will deepen divisions in the Labour party further, encourage moderates and ‘centrists’ of the validity of leaving the Labour party, and perhaps result in an unhealable split.
This is, of course, the pull factor; the push factor will be whether Corbyn’s conspiracy retains control of the party for the next few years.
Either way, this defection will significantly affect Labour. It puts greater strain on the socialist clique in power to prove their electoral appeal, as well as the court of public opinion now watching their response to being branded “institutionally anti-Semitic” extremely closely.
What about the Tories? The claim of the existence of a “purple Momentum” is ridiculous and, from where I stand in the grassroots, I actually think the opposite is true; the traditionalists in the party grassroots have lost ground rapidly to the liberals and modernisers, while the free-marketeers and economic conservatives seem to be marginalised increasingly by the leadership. But for all this, it seems to be an organic evolution in the party; no one group has sought to capture the leadership and (for lack of a better term) purge the membership, as is the case in Labour.
Taking this into account, the resignations from Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry look more like toddler-esque strops from those who haven’t had their way, unlike the principled walkouts of Umunna, Berger and Ryan. No doubt I’ll be accused of sexism for such a comment. But, as Tim Stanley pointed out, these defectors are not moderate, but ideologically committed to Remain.
Still, this will have repercussions for the Tories. If more ‘moderates’ threaten to leave, citing the influence of the ERG, it may force the Government to make further concessions to those who wish for a closer alignment with the EU after we leave on the 29th of March. The Conservative Party is notoriously good at adapting, and remains the one constant in the British political scene amidst a sea of change – but this is not necessarily a good thing.
In reality, the biggest impact of these resignations might be that nothing happens, at a time when change is desperately needed.
The party is stuck in stasis, with no particular ‘conservatism’ in charge, but a curious crush of neoliberalism, statism and social democratism. Seeing a smattering of liberal Remain MPs leave will not tip this balance in any direction. Party arithmetic might shift slightly, but the ERG remains as strong, the government does not seem shaken, and the rump of the Conservative Party looks… unsurprised.
I think history will not be kind to these eleven MPs. Half of the Labour route look like opportunists, fearful of deselection, while the other half look principled, yet none look honest. They are yet to declare their policies (outside a second Referendum on Brexit) or their donors; they do not seem to be united for anything, only united against something; and, most significantly, they are not prepared to fight a by-election in their own constituencies.
Strange, then, that their one fixed point of agreement (a second Referendum) does not seem to extend in logic to their own constituents.
by Jake Scott