Seven Labour MPs have walked away from the party to instead form a new Independent Group. It marked the first split since the SDP breakaway in the 1980s.
The MPs leaving were: Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey.
They had three main complaints: Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, how the party had been dealing with reported anti-Semitism, and what the party had been saying on Brexit.
Five of the seven departures had nominated Blairite Liz Kendall for the Labour leadership in 2015. During her campaign, she proposed increasing taxes on the rich and putting workers on company boards.
Having a look over the new movement’s website, it’s clear they have the right idea on the state of British politics today. They mention its broken; they talk about a right for everyone to be heard. They also discuss dealing with the country’s problems in a harmonious, civilised way.
Many Labour values are mentioned: from safeguarding the NHS and protecting the environment to maintaining an open, democratic and tolerant society.
All of these ambitions must be applauded. But there’s a few things that aren’t so good. Firstly, the group is staunchly anti-Brexit. Chuka Umunna, one of its architects, consistently campaigns for a second referendum in an attempt to thwart the will of the people. The rest all appear to be in agreement that there should be another vote. Secondly, they don’t appear to understand voters’ concerns on immigration. Chris Leslie, for example, described ending free movement as a ‘retrograde step’.
We don’t yet know the policies of the group on issues like the economy or crime and punishment. But it’s not likely to be in keeping with many Labour voters.
The disconnect between Labour voters and MPs was first highlighted during the EU referendum campaign: many Labour MPs were Remain voters, but many Labour constituencies were Leave-supporting.
Why did they vote that way? There’s a plethora of different reasons, but one big one was many Labour voters felt left behind. They felt Westminster didn’t speak for them, and they felt their community was being abandoned.
We need to keep to our core principles around social justice, equality and fairness. But we also need to acknowledge the importance of close relationships and how we can work together to achieve the common good.
Blue Labour is about placing family, faith and work at the crux of our politics. It’s about embracing ideas of reciprocity and mutuality. It’s not nostalgic – but a response to current concerns exhibited by a large number of Labour voters.
We can’t have a second EU referendum. Regardless of how you voted, the result must be respected. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get the best deal. Free movement should end, as the voters outlined. It fuelled anxiety, and made people feel less attached to their community. That led to mistrust in our politics.
However, that doesn’t mean we don’t welcome migrants or want migrants. We want people to come to Britain. But in order to restore those relationships, that feeling of belonging, and that trust in politics, we must work towards bringing all our communities together. And that means listening to what every part of our community has to say.
For many Labour voters, work and family are important. We should look at putting them at the heart of our institutions: moving away from a means-tested welfare system to a contributory system, where people will feel they have more of a say. But, making sure we protect the vulnerable, the sick, the disabled and others.
We should put workers on company boards, and ensure firms pay the Living Wage. That will make work pay and lead to greater social outcomes: improved social mobility and happiness.
We also need to look at a vision of shared responsibility. Creating new forms of decision-making such as Citizens’ Assemblies will make people feel more involved in the policy-making process. A national education convention, for example, could decide our schools’ curriculums.
The aims of the new breakaway group are admirable, and in some senses, agree with much of what Blue Labour has been saying.
But in order to make the party a strong, electoral force we must look at and address the concerns that the voters presented us with. What’s important to them? What matters?
They have been crying out for someone to listen. And we should heed their call.