Local government leaders across the country are fearing defections, after the first councillors quit their parties to join the Independent Group.
Five days ago, Warren Morgan, the Labour councillor and former leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, resigned from the party and became the first known councillor to declare his support for the new Independent Group of MPs. He expressed his support for the group, citing “Brexit, antisemitism and the toxic culture of aggression and bullying within the party and the broader Corbyn-supporting base” as the reasons for his departure.
Since then, he has created his own independent group on the council with fellow councillor Michael Inkpin-Leissner, who left the Labour party two years ago.
A flurry of further resignations from the Labour party followed, including Bexley councillor Danny Hackett, Barnet councillor Jessica Brayne, Stafford Borough councillor Rowan Draper, and Derby City councillor Dom Anderson, as reported in the Mirror. And ten Labour councillors wrote a joint letter to the Sunday Times at the weekend welcoming the new Independent Group.
Today, councillor Paul Wilson resigned from the Labour party during a meeting of Salford City Council, calling the leadership “fake socialists” and accusing the local constituency party of “brushing anti-Semitism under the carpet”:
“There are those within Salford Labour Party who will, and have said, I’m doing this because I’m a Blairite, or a red Tory. These same people are the ones who voted to sell off the council houses and cut disabled transport whilst I voted against these right-wing policies… I say to these fake socialists it’s time they look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves who the real socialist is!”
Salford’s mayor Paul Dennett, who campaigned for Corbyn in both leadership elections, cancelled an engagement with the New Statesman this afternoon to deal with the fallout.
Yesterday, Guildford councillor Nils Christiansen left the Conservative party to join the council’s Independent Alliance, which also includes two Tories and one Lib Dem who all resigned last year.
It’s unclear how many councillors have resigned, and which of them support the Independent Group. As it’s not a registered political party, they cannot say yet whether they would stand for the Independent Group come the local elections in May.
Many of the ex-Labour councillors’ reasons reflect those of the MP defectors – anti-Semitism on the left, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and Brexit.
And, like their parliamentary counterparts, the threat of deselection affects some councillors across parties. Christiansen, for example, had already been deselected, and “centrist” Labour councillors in Brighton have long feared deselection. With the local elections looming, some councillors have little to lose by quitting their parties.
Council leaders fear further departures. While Manchester Labour has benefitted from a fairly distinct identity from the central party, ever since it opposed the Iraq War in 2003, there are still jitters that at least one Labour councillor has met with an Independent Group MP. In Merseyside, where the Corbynite and Momentum wing of the Labour party has a loud presence in local politics, the temptation to leave is even greater.
Why does this matter? For Corbynsceptics, an exodus of Labour councillors from influential Labour-run councils could mean more instances of “Haringey round two”: the “first Corbyn council” that sprung up from deselections, in what was characterised as a “Momentum coup”. Others say dissident voices in local government could be helpful in influencing the leadership, as the Independent Group’s actions seemed to shape Labour’s Brexit policy this week.