Joan Ryan has quit the Labour Party, joining the seven who left on Monday to form “The Independent Group”. The MP for Enfield North will now sit with them in parliament. In her resignation letter, Ryan made clear that antisemitism within the party was the chief reason for her decision, saying Labour had become “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.
The news last night was only surprising in that Ryan was not an original split plotter, but a “stay and fight” activist in the style of the Corbynsceptic group Labour First. Their message to all those unhappy with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is not to let the “hard left” take over completely. Ryan agreed with that in September, but it seems she has concluded that there’s no way back for her wing of the party now.
Ryan had been locked in battle with Corbynites and local members for some time. She (narrowly) lost a local no-confidence vote last year – as did fellow splitters Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith and almost Luciana Berger. Some will say Ryan was likely to be deselected anyway, and these MPs are jumping before they were pushed.
Labour has now lost both the Jewish Labour Movement chair and the Labour Friends of Israel chair. (More on the potential impact of that here.) There was a lot of sympathy among the grassroots for Luciana Berger and her complaints about the way Labour antisemitism has been handled, from the left too, especially as she was admired for her work and depth of knowledge on mental health issues. But Ryan, who described Team Corbyn as a “Stalinist clique” in her statement, won’t be getting that same reaction.
The leadership has offered mixed responses to the events. John McDonnell promised a “listening exercise” following the resignations but Labour has also just announced that it will consult on allowing constituents to recall their MPs if they switch parties. Obviously the party wants to boost its ranks via by-elections in the splitters’ seats, and Labour activists want that too. But the fighting talk means other anti-Corbyn MPs with Corbynite local memberships and slim majorities could be further encouraged to quit.
The most interesting news today is expected to come at 11am, when three Tories – Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston – may quit the Conservative Party over Brexit. This could actually bring down the government. If a handful of Tories leave, Labour can call another vote of no confidence. Although the Labour splitters have made clear they’d rather have Theresa May in No10 than Corbyn, there would be pressure on “The Independent Group” MPs to vote against the government on that motion. And aside from longer-term consequences, to see those Tory MPs physically cross the floor and sit on the opposition benches would be quite a sight at PMQs today.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.