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A SMALL clique of Blairite MPs rebuffed pressure today to do the “honourable thing” and stand in by-elections following their resignation from the Labour Party.
The seven MPs from the party’s right wing, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna finally left to form a new Independent Group following months of speculation.
Yet despite their calls for a second referendum — a “People’s Vote” — they are refusing to stand in by-elections, with Ms Berger allegedly telling a Sky News reporter that “one thing voters don’t want now is more elections.”
The MPs cited Labour’s refusal to call for a second referendum, its handling of the anti-semitism crisis and the democratisation of the party under Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as reasons for the split.
However, no sooner had they announced their breakaway group, Ms Smith sparked outrage after apparently describing black people and ethnic minorities as having a “funny tinge” on BBC 2’s Politics Live.
"I am very sorry about any offence caused, and I am very upset that I misspoke so badly. It's not what I am"@angelasmithmp apologises for appearing to say "funny tinge" when talking about skin colour on #politicslive
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) February 18, 2019
She was forced to issue an embarrassing apology for her comments in a video she posted on Twitter, saying: “I'm very sorry about any offence caused and I’m very upset that I misspoke so badly.
“It’s not what I am. I am committed to fighting racism wherever I find it in our society.”
But she failed to convince many social media users, with one commenting: “What measures will you be taking to completely eradicate racism from the Independent Group?”
Another, Jon Thrower, posted: “If a Labour member ‘misspoke’ about a member of the Jewish community, Angela Smith would (and rightly so) being calling for them to be expelled.
“Why do the same rules not apply to her and the new Independent Group?”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “All of these MPs stood on our manifesto in 2017, they all increased their majorities.
“Now they are on a different platform, so the honourable thing, the usual thing, for them to do now is to stand down and fight by-elections back in their constituencies.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey hit out at the “splitters” who had “no stomach for a fight for Labour’s core values.”
He said: “There’s a strong whiff of hypocrisy here. They stood as Labour MPs and got massive increases in their majorities.
“I have to tell them: it wasn’t part of their own personal charisma.”
Mr McCluskey argued that the MPs had stood on a manifesto which promised to respect the 2016 referendum and “all of their heartbreak about what’s happened in Brexit sounds a little bit hollow.”
Arch-Blairite Mr Leslie has faced a no-confidence vote from his local party and sources close to the leadership of Mr Umunna’s constituency of Streatham told the Star that Joel Bodmer, the chair of Streatham CLP, has written to him to demand he calls a by-election.
On behalf of Labour, Mr Corbyn said: “I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.
“Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few — redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change.
“The Conservative government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan.
“When millions are facing the misery of universal credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all.”
GMB general secretary Tim Roache added: “A new party for tinkering around at the edges is categorically not what people in the UK need.
“I gritted my teeth through the Blair era, when I disagreed with the Labour government on a host of issues. But I stayed in the party because Labour in power is always better than the alternative.”
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