Labour challenges breakaway 'Independent Group' MPs to fight by-elections after they quit party
The seven Labour MPs who have quit to form an independent bloc in Parliament should resign and test their support in by-elections, party insiders have said.
A Labour source said Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey should do the "right and democratic thing" - as Jeremy Corbyn said he was "disappointed" at the seven MPs for quitting.
In a direct challenge to the new group, a party source said: "All these MPs stood under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership on a manifesto that the whole party united around and all saw their votes increase.
"Now they are standing for different policies and on a different platform, they should resign and put them to the test in a by-election. That is the right and democratic thing to do."
The seven MPs used a Westminster press conference on Monday morning to announce that they were breaking away to form a new bloc dubbed 'The Independent Group'.
And they accused Labour of becoming "institutionally anti-Semitic" and "hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left" under Mr Corbyn's leadership.
But Mr Corbyn said his party's platform had "inspired millions at the last election" - while pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum accused the breakaway group of pushing "the politics of the past".
The Labour leader 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."
Mr Corbyn added: "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."
In a statement, Momentum's National Coordinator Laura Parker meanwhile said: "Labour’s common sense socialism has widespread support amongst the public, has inspired hundreds of thousands to join the party and caused the most spectacular electoral comeback in British history.
"Labour now has a plan to rebuild Britain. These MPs want to take us back to the politics of the past.
"With a back-to-the-Blair years programme of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of the banks, they offer no concrete solutions, no new ideas and have no support amongst the public."
Derby North MP Chris Williamson - a key ally of the leadership - meanwhile told PoliticsHome that the split would "galvanise" Mr Corbyn's supporters.
"It's rather sad that MPs who were only elected because they stood as Labour candidates, and benefited from the hard work of grassroots members, have let down those members, supporters and the millions of people who desperately need a Labour government," he said.
"But I'm sure this will galvanise people to redouble their efforts to build our movement to ensure we elect a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn to transform our country to create a good society that radically reduces the grotesque level of inequality by reforming the economy so that it works in the interests of the 99% not just the top 1%."
'MIDDLE OF THE ROAD'
The Independent Group said it intended to stand for a "diverse, mixed social market economy", and "progressive values" that had been "been abandoned by today’s Labour Party".
But Ms Parker warned them: "Across Europe, parties stuck in the middle of the road mould have no young supporter base to speak of and are plummeting in the polls, enabling the rise of the far right.
"Tens of thousands of volunteers regularly come out and campaign for Labour. This fringe minority of MPs have today not set out any agenda capable of inspiring anything remotely similar."
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth meanwhile heaped scorn on the new outfit, saying the Independent Group would "independently help the Tories stay in power".
But Labour MP Ian Murray - who was not among those quitting today but last week warned his colleagues were being "pushed to the brink" over Brexit - said it was "a sad day for the Labour Party and for me personally".
The Edinburgh South MP said: "We have lost the talent and expertise of seven MPs who represent everything our movement should stand for and who are personal friends.
"The current Labour leadership is breaking the broad church that this party once built its electoral success upon – a broad church which delivered Labour governments that lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty.
"The challenge now is for Jeremy Corbyn to listen and learn, and decide if he wants to keep the Labour Party together or if he will continue to foster a culture of bullying and intolerance where his own MPs feel unwelcome and are being forced out."
Neil Coyle, the MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark, meanwhile put the leadership on notice as he urged it to respond to the "test" set by the resignations.
He told the BBC: "I’ve already had many of the swaggering brocialists online telling me I should be leaving and they’re the problem.
"They are putting off people who would normally support the Labour Party, they are preventing our good policies on policing, on housing, on education, on Universal Credit cutting through. They are part of the problem and they need reining in massively and quickly and the test for Labour today is whether that is done or whether they are allowed to continue riding roughshod over our party’s values.”