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THOUSANDS of voters challenged Labour’s deserters today to fight for their seats, demanding electoral reform to force MPs who are sacked or resign to contest a by-election.
Following the resignations of the “gang of seven” — Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna — many Labour voters insisted they were returned in the last election because of the party they stood for and should therefore stand in a by-election now they have left it.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “disappointed” by the resignations.
“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.
An online petition, which has been calling for the rule change, received a massive boost after the seven declared they were leaving to join the Independent Group yesterday.
The petition, started by university researcher Tim Longson a couple of months ago, states that the public are “tired of MP candidates claiming to share the values of a political party in order to win office and then when it suits them to do so, quitting the party that got them elected to ‘become an independent’ or ‘change party’ in a manner which does not reflect the ‘package deal’ that was presented for election on the voting ballots.”
Mr Longson argued that voters largely support a party rather than an individual as “there is a good chance that the local electorate will not even know their candidate,” and so cast their vote for the logo on a ballot paper rather than the candidate’s name.
He said: “The people’s right to open democracy outweighs the individual candidate’s rights to convenience. Parliament must be democratically accountable to the will of the electorate.”
An MP confident in their constituents’ support “should have no fear” of standing in a by-election as an independent, he said.
Despite its infancy, the Independent Group has already faced a barrage of criticisms.
It was revealed the group was registered through Gemini A Limited, a private company owned by defector Mr Shuker — not as a formal political party through the Electoral Commission watchdog — which raised transparency concerns as private companies do not have to declare donations.
And Ms Smith has come underfire for referring to BAME people as having “a funny tinge” hours after announcing her resignation and further embarrassed her new group today by telling Sky presenter Kay Burley that the new party has got to be “a bottoms-up movement.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that Labour would undertake a “mammoth listening exercise” to address the criticisms made by the defectors, but that the “only disagreement we have had within the party is around how we handle Brexit and I think we are bringing people together on that.”
The seven MPs were branded “pathetic” by Derek Hatton, the former deputy leader of Liverpool City Council who was readmitted to Labour decades after being expelled.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “For 34 years I’ve stayed absolutely solid with the Labour Party. Never joined any other party, never actually voted for another party. Never campaigned for another party.
“And, believe you me, during the times of the Blair era, the Iraq war, the ending of clause four, etc, it wasn’t easy, and it was tempting to go.
“And that’s why when you look at the seven who now have left you think, well, how pathetic is it, how really strong are you within the labour movement to want to run away when there is something that you disagree with?”
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