THE Labour MPs who announced this week that they were leaving the party should not be condemned, the campaign group Christians on the Left has said.
Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Ann Coffey, and Mike Gapes confirmed on Monday that they would sit in Parliament as a new group, “The Independent Group”. They were joined by Joan Ryan on Tuesday, and on Wednesday by three members of the Conservative Party — Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, and Sarah Wollaston.
The initial seven said: “Visceral hatreds of other people, views, and opinions are commonplace in and around the Labour Party.”
They accused Labour of pursuing “policies that would weaken our national security”, and failing “to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit”. The party was “passive in circumstances of international humanitarian distress; is hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”.
In a joint letter to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, the three Conservative MPs lamented a “shift to the Right”. They could no longer remain in a party “whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG [European Research Group, opposed to the EU] and the DUP”.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, said that she could “no longer represent a government and a party who can’t open their eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable in society — suffering that we have deepened, while having the power to fix.”
Mrs May said that she was “saddened by this decision” but defended her delivery of Brexit: “By delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country.”
The MPs from both parties sat together in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Christians on the Left, Stephen Beer, said on Tuesday that the group was “saddened” by the departure of MPs. “Our message has always been that Labour Party members should find ways of working well together,” he said.
“We should not rush to condemn those MPs who have left, because that will increase the rancour in politics, which is already at too high a level. Instead, those of us in the Labour Party must further our efforts to ensure our party is open and welcoming, and united on our political values and ambition for a Labour government.”
One of the dissidents, Mr Shuker, was pastor of the City Life Church in Luton until his election as MP for Luton South, and is vice-chair of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group, and a member of Christians on the Left. He cited frustration with foreign-policy positions as a motivating factor for his departure. “We believe that our first duty is to do what it takes to keep people safe. We don’t think every problem in the world is created by the West — in fact, we’re proud of our values home and abroad.”
Ms Berger, the Labour/Co-op MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said in a letter to constituents that the party had allowed anti-Semitism to “take root and fester in a way that is unprecedented in modern British politics”.
The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, spoke of “a moment for regret and reflection, not for a mood of anger or a tone of triumph”. He regarded the dissidents not as traitors but as “people who’ve drawn the wrong conclusion to a serious question”.
“The tragedy of the hard Left is that they can be too easily tempted into the language of heresy and treachery,” he said, expressing sadness that “a virulent form of identity politics has seized the Labour Party.” The departure of Ms Berger was “a wake-up call for the Labour Party. . . Even a single incident of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party shames us and shames us all. . .
“We need to broaden out so that all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation.”
Canon Steven Saxby, Vicar of St Barnabas and St James the Great, Walthamstow, and the Labour parliamentary candidate for the Cities of London & Westminster, said that he was sad to see his colleagues go, “especially at a time when Labour has the policies this country so desperately needs to tackle poverty and look after the most vulnerable in society. . .
“From what I can see, the Party is working hard to tackle anti-Semitism and expose the government’s shambolic handling of Brexit. More than ever we need a united front rather than a divided opposition.”
The Independent Group has rejected calls for its members to stand down and fight by-elections.
“This is what the big parties do,” Heidi Allen said on Wednesday. “They want to crush the birth of democracy. They want to crush people like us trying to change things for this country.”
The Conservative Christian Fellowship was asked for a comment, which was not forthcoming.