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8 February 2019

Motions of no confidence in Luciana Berger withdrawn as Labour steps back from crisis

The Labour party has avoided a major split, but a minor one may now be inevitable.

By Stephen Bush

No confidence proceedings against Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, have been brought to a halt after local party activists in her constituency Labour party withdrew their motions of no confidence following discreet pressure from the party leadership.

The move heads off a potential crisis in the Labour party over the treatment of Berger, who has become an outspoken critic of the leadership on the issue of anti-Semitism within its ranks. This week she wrote two sharply critical articles on the issue of anti-Semitism in Labour, for the Times and the Evening Standard.

Berger is also one of “the Six”, six Labour MPs who are regularly spoken of as potential leaders of a party split. In her Times article, Berger wrote that the Labour party is “not the party I joined” and refused to say that a Corbyn-led government would be good for the United Kingdom in an interview with LBC at the end of January.

The Liverpool Wavertree MP, who served in Corbyn’s frontbench from 2015 to 2016, is thought to have grown increasingly troubled by the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints – among other things the leadership failed to inform her of a death threat made against her passed to party headquarters – and the mealy-mouthed response to anti-Semitism within the Parliamentary Labour Party. She told a recent meeting of the PLP that their applause for her in PLP meetings was no substitute for real solidarity out in public.

Many within Labour believe that a split is inevitable, but a split over Brexit involving a small number of MPs would be significantly less damaging to the party than one precipitated by MPs walking away over the handling of anti-Semitism. The latter would potentially carry greater numbers of MPs and be considerably more damaging to the party’s prospects.

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It is a measure of the fear of a split for some in the party’s upper echelons that they have moved to head off the row. Although some form of breakaway may now be inevitable, the leadership will be keen to cap the size of any split.