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OUR country is in crisis and needs a Labour government more than ever. Millions are facing the misery of poverty wages, a housing crisis and insecure work and the Tories’ bungling of Brexit is adding to a worsening economic outlook and feeling of insecurity about the future.
With this overall context in mind, it was with great sadness that I heard this week that nine of my Labour MP colleagues had resigned from the party.
As Jeremy Corbyn said in response to the news: “Our opponents are the Tories, not each other, and it’s disappointing that a small group of 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.”
While there is much more work to do to win a Labour government, it’s important in light of this week’s developments to restate that at the 2017 general election, Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few of ending Tory austerity. We confounded the pundits and bucked the trend of declining votes for left-of-centre parties across Europe.
The basis of this step forward was a clear commitment in our manifesto to not only ending austerity, but also genuinely redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change through a green jobs revolution.
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 and make this progressive alternative a reality.
In the constituency I represent, Hackney North and Stoke Newington, I hear every day from constituents who are struggling to make ends meet, who are victims of the housing crisis or can’t find social care for themselves or relatives.
And this situation isn’t going to get any better unless the Tories go. In fact, despite their spin to the contrary, their failed, ideologically driven, austerity cuts are not coming to an end, but in fact being deepened.
For those millions the only solution is a Labour government that will invest in and transform our country.
I am old enough to remember the last big split in the Labour Party — it led to the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981.
The new party was launched with an even bigger fanfare than the current group, it had almost universal approval from the media and it made amazing strides very quickly.
Twenty-eight Labour MPs defected to the SDP. Unfortunately almost all of them incinerated their careers. And, for all of the sensation of its launch, the lasting achievement of the SDP was to split the Labour vote and help keep the Tories in power for 18 years.
So anyone would be sad contemplating this week’s split. The danger is that it puts the possibility of a Labour government further away than ever but so many ordinary people are desperate for a Labour government.
When Labour members think of how to respond to these developments, we must remember that the public will not be interested in what they may well regard as a squabble inside the Westminster bubble. Instead, they want politicians who are engaged in the reality of ordinary people’s lives.
In terms of one of the key claims of those who have left Labour this week in this regard, it is untrue to say that Labour has been complicit in a Tory Brexit.
The truth is that it was Labour in Parliament that campaigned for a meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. I voted Remain, I represent one of the strongest Remain constituencies in the country and if a second referendum were held tomorrow, I would vote Remain again.
But I think that critics of Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit don’t appreciate how he has struggled to keep the party together on this issue.
Labour represents some of the most pro-Remain constituencies in the country (including mine, Hackney North) but it also represents some of the most pro-Leave constituencies in the country.
The reality is that the Conservative government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a credible position to bring people together, just as our alternative economic strategy to end austerity can also bring together communities across the country.
In contrast to Labour, the Tories are the party that has brought us record levels of violent crime; a struggling National Health Service; damaging cuts in local government; benefit cuts; the Windrush scandal and much more besides, tearing apart the very fabric of our society.
With the awful example of what happened following the split of the SDP in the ’80s in our minds, we must strive to keep the Labour Party together and continue to build on — and win support for — our programme for the many, not the few.
It is a radical Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn that will see through the progressive transformation our society and economy need. Let’s make it happen.
Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary. She writes this column every other Saturday.
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