Revealed: ‘New Left’ group sparks debate over divisions among left MPs

Sienna Rodgers
Socialist Campaign Group meeting in January 2020. © Twitter/@socialistcam

The formation of a ‘New Left’ collective in parliament has prompted accusations of a “splinter group” and raised concerns from some on the Labour left that divisions among MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group are deepening.

LabourList has been told that the new group includes Labour backbenchers Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Clive Lewis, Nadia Whittome, Rachael Maskell, Dawn Butler and Kim Johnson, and frontbenchers Sam Tarry and Olivia Blake.

It is understood that others were invited to join the group, including Paula Barker, Beth Winter, Nav Mishra and Rachel Hopkins, but ultimately they did not become members and are not currently involved.

A well-placed source said: “They’re saying it isn’t a splinter group but it is.” This claim is strongly denied by members of the new group, who say they do not plan to leave the Socialist Campaign Group founded in 1982.

An initial strategy document obtained by LabourList said the group would take inspiration from ‘The Squad’ in the US, left Democrats who have “put pressure on President Biden to take more progressive stances on a number of issues”.

The paper from last year also explores the idea of providing “intellectual leadership around the New Left” to “fill the current intellectual vacuum in the party”, setting up a database for petitions and training MPs’ staffers.

One Labour left MP told LabourList: “I think if they want to split, they should get themselves a name and split. At the moment they want to have their cake and eat it.” But the MP added: “With Jeremy [Corbyn] losing the whip, it’s important for us to hold together.”

Members of the new group say it is simply a way of pooling resources to do practical work – such as slick videos, which were seen during the campaign against the policing bill – and that talk of a split is “mischief-making”.

One member of the ‘New Left’ group said: “MPs work with other MPs all the time to campaign on issues on behalf of our constituents, and this is another project to do that. I’m a proud member of the SCG and am not leaving.”

The new group began when MPs in both Love Socialism and the Campaign Group came together for an away day. It is now understood to have a paid staffer and to operate under the company ‘Progressive Training and Support Limited’.

The original strategy document suggested members would discuss in January/February 2022 whether to “have a name and public presence like the ERG [European Research Group]” or operate “informally below the radar”.

It proposed that funding sources for the new group would be sought from MPs contributing £1,000 each and from “ECF funding”, which refers to the European Climate Foundation that funds green NGOs and think tanks.

Several Campaign Group MPs did not join the new group but expressed concerns to LabourList about the direction and management of the SCG, though the SCG leadership denies that the Labour left is dramatically divided.

SCG secretary Richard Burgon said: “It’s always been the case that MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group are involved in other initiatives too – there’s nothing new about that. What unites the Campaign Group is the struggle for a socialist Labour Party and the fight for the policies of the last few manifestos, which remain popular and relevant.

“That’s the role the group has always played, is still playing and will keep playing. Of course it will serve the interests of some on the right of the party who are trying to bury socialism in our movement to stir things up in order to try and weaken the left.”

Some left MPs did not join the new group because they believed it was too Remain-focused or had an emphasis on proportional representation, and some did not favour likening a UK left approach to that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US.

But one MP who did not join said: “I would say the new grouping is far more comradely than the SCG.” They added: “There is no unity in the left – that’s just a myth… There is at least some strategy in the new group.”

Another MP said of the Campaign Group: “It’s really a dysfunctional group… Sometimes there are collective statements, sometimes statements with names on – it’s to get the trolls after you.”

There have been intense debates in the SCG over how to deal with the issue of Jeremy Corbyn losing the whip and over how to release statements, as including signatories can cause some MPs to be criticised on social media.

MPs sympathetic to those setting up new projects outside the SCG have also raised concerns over there being no SCG annual general meeting since 2020 and over peers joining the group.

Others say the SCG is functioning well, with 20 MPs meeting on a weekly basis, a lively conference fringe event every year, monthly online seminars and a national ‘roadshow’ of local meetings.

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