What is We Deserve Better, the group Owen Jones has left Labour for?

Owen Jones

Left-wing activist and columnist Owen Jones has announced he has quit the Labour Party after 24 years, urging voters to back Green and independent candidates at the next general election.

The move has prompted criticism from voices across the party, with one senior figure calling it “pathetic” and an MP calling it a “strategic blunder” with Labour on track to regain power. Another MP said it was a “sad day for the party”, however.

In a column in The Guardian and a video posted online, the political commentator claimed that Labour had become a “hostile environment” for anyone believing in more left-wing policies, such as nationalisation, and was committed to the “same ruinous policies which trashed this country”.

He urged readers to “send Labour a message” by signing up to a new group called We Deserve Better.

We take a look at what the group is, what its plans are and reaction to Jones’ exit from the party.

Group to target members of the shadow cabinet

Its website, which LabourList understands was registered on March 8, tells voters that the “Tories are toast”, with no risk of the Conservative Party winning the next election. It claims: “Starmer’s Labour will win the next general election by default but they aren’t offering any solutions to the Tories’ ruinous record. We deserve better than this race to the bottom.”

The group is raising money to kickstart a campaign fund, which will be used to back “socialist candidates”, regardless of party affiliation, in order to support “transformative policies”.These include “taxing the rich to fund public services, backing public ownership, tackling the climate crisis and opposing war crimes in Gaza”.

It claims this is “safe in the knowledge that there’s no risk of the Tories getting back into government”.

While the group acknowledges that might mean supporting “socialist” Labour MPs in some areas, the website also specifically says it will campaign against two members of the shadow cabinet, namely Thangam Debbonaire in Bristol Central and Wes Streeting in Ilford North by backing Green candidate Carla Denyer and British-Palestinian independent candidate Leanne Mohamad respectively.

Labour Party rules, tightened last year to ensure they cover support for rival candidates as well as rival parties, suggest members risk expulsion for “providing financial support or assistance to, or otherwise supporting the campaign of an individual that stands in opposition to, or declares an intention to stand in opposition to, a Labour Party candidate”.

Also banned is “possessing membership of, providing financial assistance to, sitting on the ruling body of or otherwise supporting (as may be defined by the national executive committee) any political organisation that the NEC in its absolute discretion shall declare to be inimical with the aims and values of the party”.

Who else is backing We Deserve Better?

While Owen Jones is the most high-profile supporter, with his video proclaiming his departure from Labour featuring prominently on its website, the group says it has a committee of three members.

They are Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim, a senior figure in the Green New Deal Rising group, British-Palestinian journalist Hamza Ali Shah, and Amna Abdullatif, an independent councillor in Manchester. The latter quit the Labour Party in October last year after she claimed Keir Starmer had “effectively endorsed a war crime” in comments he made to LBC.

We Deserve Better’s website says it is based at Pelican House in east London. The site has also been used by Labour left campaign group Momentum, Green New Deal Rising and other organisations.

‘Pathetic to back candidates seeking to undermine Labour’

In the aftermath of the group going public earlier this morning, there has been a wave of criticism from Labour figures, dismissing the initiative’s chances of success and claiming it will undermine Labour just as it appears set to enter Number 10.

Luke Akehurst, a member of Labour’s national executive committee, said: “I suspect this project will be as unsuccessful as every previous breakaway from the Labour Party, whether to the right or previous left-wing formations that disappeared without a trace after a brief flurry of media coverage.

“I am disappointed that Owen Jones who used to make thoughtful contributions to debate on the left, not least holding nuanced views around issues to do with Israel and anti-semitism, has ended his membership in this way.

“There’s something rather pathetic about backing a random collection of Green and independent candidates who are seeking to undermine Labour just at the point where we’re headed towards an historic general election victory.”

‘It’s a strategic blunder for the left to step away’

One Labour MP told LabourList: “As a longstanding friend of Owen, I am disappointed by his decision.

“Just at the point where millions of working people have decisively moved away from the Tories, and will vote Labour, it’s a strategic blunder for the left to step away and separate ourselves from the the settled views of British working people.

“Our task is to defeat the Tories and build a majority current for a progressive shift in the months and years to come.”

Andrew Fisher, former executive director for policy and research under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, also called Jones a “good friend” but said he would not be joining him in quitting the Labour Party.

In an op-ed for the i, Fisher said: “The party is not the Keir Starmer fan club. If it was I would leave…The Labour Party still says in its rulebook it is ‘a democratic socialist party’…It is the party founded by trade unionists…

“While the Labour Party has moved rightwards in recent years, in terms of policy it is if anything slightly to the left of where it was under Miliband, Brown or Blair.”

‘An indictment the party would do well not to ignore’

But another MP told LabourList: “Only the most factional of members will celebrate the loss of Owen from the party. A tireless activist and writer he has campaigned in scores of seats and in numerous campaigns.

“Whether you agree with him or not it is hard not to see this as a sad day for the party. Historically from its inception the party has always been a home for such activists.

“His argument that despite generations of his family’s involvement he no longer feels at home in Labour is an indictment the party would do well not to ignore.”

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