It has been reported that MPs will separate from the Labor Party if Rebecca Long-Bailey becomes leader. Whether this happens is debatable. Leaving is a difficult and deeply personal decision. It is more than just quitting a job, even if it is also that, it is moving away from your goal, from your political family, to sever ties and friendships.
A year ago today, I watched Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes and my husband Chris Leslie do just that.
I was leading a small group that helped MPs plan how to communicate why they were leaving Labor and what they stood for and against. The to-do list was endless – a business; governance; Name; story; questions and answers; media plan; website; collect, receive and report funds; employ staff; keep data; plan an activity and launch. All without telling anyone who might flee.
Parliament was on vacation the week of 18 February 2019. Not ideal. After months of making sense of Brexit and an obscure parliamentary procedure, no one would blame political journalists for taking a week off. We shortened the room to avoid empty spaces, but they came in droves.
The seven deputies arrived – that was eight (I was told he had changed his mind because he didn’t want to upset his mother).
We had rehearsed everything. A group of adults walking to a stage and passing chairs to the lectern may seem simple, but when you have a group where one is to have a baby and another is to have a hip replacement, you better leave nothing behind. randomly.
Luciana started: “My name is Luciana Berger and I am the Labor member -“. Instinct. Luciana gave one of the most devastating and extraordinary critiques of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor, which at any other time, in any other party, would have sounded the death knell for party leadership.
Chris was next. His voice caught as he said it hadn’t been an easy decision. It was the only time I saw him emotional in public.
Angela told her personal story of poverty in parliament, then Gavin with a scathing description of the Labor leadership. Ann followed: “I thought I would be in Labor for the rest of my life.” Mike’s words were angry and sad but full of struggle and determination, just like Mike himself. Finally, Chuka echoed the journey and regrets that had brought us here, but with hope for the future.
The words were theirs but they spoke for all of us who had come to the end of the road with a party unrecognizable from the one we joined.
The speeches and questions have ended. It was positive and emotional. Authentic. We had created The Independent Group. Now we had to survive.
The media plan was stretched by the size of the offers compared to the small team.
But it was politics and it’s the unexpected that hits you in the face. As an advisor, you blame yourself for not having thought of all the possible scenarios, but some things are literally unimaginable. There would be a few of those moments. The first one came on the first day.
I was only out for a sandwich but went back to the “oh my god” faces. A discussion in Daily Politics had turned to racism and Angela had referred to people with a “funny tinge”.
Horrible, but we had to go through horrified disbelief. Angela had to apologize – to put it mildly. She was devastated and sorry. Obviously, no apology or explanation could diminish how horrible it was, but Angela apologized and thought every word.
Everyone was angry but we had no choice but to continue.
As I walked home to parent, while Chris stayed for Newsnight, he appeared in his office: “The Conservatives are coming.
We had talked about a small number of Conservatives who would join us, but nothing was certain.
“We need another event, the same as ours.” We had 36 hours.
TIG was going to be a roller coaster, relentlessly and we were on our way.
When I finally left, Luciana’s photo appeared in a pile of newspapers and people were talking about us on the train.
Many are happy to say that the TIG has failed, but whatever happens next, the goal of that day a year ago was to say publicly what many would only say in private: that it should not be trust Labor in the hands of the hard left. Taking a stand is not a failure. These seven MPs (joined by Joan Ryan and the four Tories) put their country ahead of the party and themselves, while others did not. This is what we must expect from all of our elected officials. I am proud and grateful that they did.
Nicola Murphy is the former Executive Director of The Independent Group.