On 18 February, seven Labour MPs resigned from the Party and launched the new Independent Group. This Parliamentary caucus will be the first time since the infamous 1981 ‘Gang of Four’ that a disgruntled group will set up what looks to be a fresh political party. Unsurprisingly, they have already been dubbed by many names, good and bad, from The Magnificent Seven to The Seven Dwarfs.

Only one of Greater Manchester’s 24 Labour MPs has so far joined this Independent Group – Stockport’s Ann Coffey, first elected in 1992. Her dissatisfaction with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been clear since 25 June 2016, when she and fellow Corbyn-critic Margaret Hodge requested a Vote of No Confidence in the leader after his apparent lack of direction during the Brexit campaign. She has also cited the ongoing allegations of anti-Semitism, which has deeply divided the party and led to over a year of negative press attention and alienation amongst rank and file members.

The true extent of this new crisis hitting Labour is yet to be seen, as there have been many more obviously discontented MPs who may defect to the Independent Group. As a traditionally Labour city, Manchester contains many Labour MPs and all ten metropolitan borough councils in the region are controlled by Labour – although two are minority/coalition-run. This all means that, should the split deepen, we could see a further three or more MPs resign, and even a disastrous grassroots division.

Labour Councillors in the metropolitan boroughs could, like the last time there was such a visceral breakaway, begin forming new groups or fighting elections under a new banner. In short, Greater Manchester could become a political battleground, testing loyalties and unleashing electoral chaos onto a public which is likely apathetic to the partisan manoeuvring.

The loss of one MP from a major Party in this current knife-edge Parliament makes life difficult for Party leaders. But the main question facing Greater Manchester is whether at a local level it will tolerate, be aggressive, or be impassive towards parliamentarians who defect from their Party without holding by-elections to test the courage of their convictions. Shall these MPs’ actions have little effect on the ordinary lives of the public across the city, or will a kind of sectarianism be inflicted on Manchester with new factions vying for power at every level of Government?

Prediction

In addition to Ann Coffey in Stockport, there are three further MPs who have the potential to move out of the Labour fold.

Ivan Lewis (Bury South), who is already sitting as an independent, left the Party in December last year after facing disciplinary action following sexual harassment allegations. He is also disappointed in the Party response to the ongoing anti-Semitism inquiry. He is perhaps the most likely to join the Independent Group due to his parliamentary voting record and policy positions aligning with the MPs who have formed the Independent Group.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) has also been the object of disciplinary action, in this case over alleged workplace bullying: “I strongly refute the allegations of bullying made against me. I believe the investigation was not thorough, fair or independent.” This could show her coming estrangement as she seems to suggest she is the victim of a campaign from the top of the Party to oust her from her seat anyway.

Finally, and most complexly, there is Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton). Stringer is an ardent Brexiteer, and is one of a handful of Labour MPs who have voted with the Conservative Government on a range of pro-Brexit legislation. He has been singled out as unique amongst his colleges for his views on a range of topics, having purportedly denied the existence of dyslexia and even had ties to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate change denial organisation. Seemingly he is out-of-step and slowly moving away from the Labour Party on the biggest issue of the day. However, the new Independent Group has announced its total commitment to remaining in the EU, so Stringer would be more likely to join UKIP than the new political movement.

Labour Split map

Map of the Greater Manchester Parliamentary Constituencies.

Key

Red – Labour
Blue – Conservative
Black – Independent Group
Grey – Ivan Lewis (independent)
Pink – Graham Stringer, Debbie Abrahams.

Lucas Jones