Sheffield MP Angela Smith brands Labour ‘beyond redemption’ as she quits party

Sheffield MP Angela Smith has branded Labour ‘beyond redemption’, after quitting the party to become an independent member of parliament.

Monday, 18th February 2019, 14:42 pm
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 14:47 pm
Stocksbridge and Penistone MP Angela Smith announces her resignation from the Labour Party (pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The Penistone & Stocksbridge MP today joined six parliamentary colleagues in renouncing their membership to join a breakaway ‘Independent Group’.

They resigned in protest at the direction Labour has taken under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, including the party’s approach to leaving the European Union and its handling of anti-Semitism claims.

Stocksbridge and Penistone MP Angela Smith announces her resignation from the Labour Party (pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

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Setting out her reasons for leaving, Ms Smith claimed the party was now ‘characterised by intolerance, and fuelled by hatred for anything other than a hard-left agenda’.

She said it had been her ‘privilege’ to sit as a Labour MP since 2005, when she was elected to represent her former constituency of Sheffield Hillsborough, and described the decision to quit the party as ‘one of the hardest’ she had ever made.

“Labour has undergone a profound change since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015 – change which has destroyed the proud political movement built by our predecessors,” she said.

The seven MPs who have quit the Labour Party to create a new Independent Group. Pictured left to right are Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker and Chuka Umunna (pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

“Labour is now characterised by intolerance, and is fuelled by hatred for anything other than a hard-left agenda. The party fosters division rather than unity – and despises anyone who dares to disagree with its leader or its approach.”

Ms Smith campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU and supports calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit, which would include the option not to leave.

But her reasons for leaving the party go much deeper than that, she said.

Penistone & Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith (pic: Gus Campbell Photography/PA Wire)

She claimed Labour had always been a party which understood that ‘economic growth and social progress went hand in hand’ and appreciated ‘how critical it was that Britain played a leading role on the international stage’, but this approach had been ‘cast aside’ under Mr Corbyn.

“I believe in aspiration, and know that people don’t want to be patronised by left-wing intellectuals who think that being poor and working-class constitutes a state of grace,” she said.

She claimed shadow chancellor John McDonnell's plans would ‘chill the very marrow of our country’, destroying jobs and hurting businesses large and small, while Mr Corbyn’s foreign policy would ‘put our national security at risk’.

On Brexit, she accused the Labour leader of committing an 'appalling betrayal’ by failing to campaign ‘with any enthusiasm’ to remain in 2016 and now refusing to back a second public vote.

“Labour is a party beyond redemption. There is no way back. At all levels, the leadership has taken control. We are faced with both a government that is out of ideas and out of road, and an opposition which is unfit for power. Our politics is broken and it has to change,” she concluded.

“That is why I have decided to join with my colleagues in forming the Independent Group. It is time for change; time for a politics no longer dominated by political parties who are acting not in your interests, but in their own.”

Mr Corbyn said he was ‘disappointed’ by the group’s decision, especially given Labour had increased its vote at the last general election by the largest share since 1945.

"Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few - redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change,” he said.

"The Conservative Government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan. When millions are facing the misery of Universal Credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all."

Ms Smith’s decision to quit the party means a third of the city’s six MPs are now independent, less than two years after Labour secured a clean sweep at the last general election in June 2017.

Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara left Labour last July, claiming he had been treated unfairly by the party during its investigation into offensive tweets he sent as a young man and an allegation he verbally assaulted a female constituent just weeks before polling day.

 

ANGELA SMITH'S STATEMENT IN FULL

I was born to a Labour family in 1961.

My father was a printer by trade and my mother started work when I was a teenager, eventually moving on to a job as a receptionist in the NHS.

I come from a long line of Labour members and supporters. I am the fourth generation of my family to have been a part of the Labour movement.

That’s why the decision which I have made – to resign the Labour whip and to sit as part of a new, Independent Group of MPs in the House of Commons – has been one of the hardest I have had to make in my entire life.

It has been my privilege to sit as a Sheffield MP since 2005 – first for the parliamentary seat of Sheffield Hillsborough and, since 2010, for Penistone and Stocksbridge. Every day I am profoundly grateful to the voters who have placed their trust in me to stand up for them in Parliament.

My values are deeply ingrained and I know that people in Sheffield share them. For me – as for my parents – working-class pride isn’t about enjoying poverty and wearing it as a badge of honour; it’s about self-respect and believing that we can do better … that there is nothing wrong in getting on in life.

I believe in aspiration, and know that people don’t want to be patronised by left-wing intellectuals who think that being poor and working-class constitutes a state of grace.

I believe that everybody in our country has a responsibility to make a contribution to our society – and in return, that government has a role in enabling people to make the best of themselves, while prudently managing our money, growing our economy and working to keep us safe.

These beliefs haven’t changed from the day I first took my seat in the House of Commons to today. But, sadly, Labour has changed – and it is clear that my values are no longer welcome.

Think about the proud history of Labour. From the creation of the NHS and the foundation of the welfare state under Clement Attlee, to the extension of women’s rights and pioneering social reforms under Harold Wilson, to the transformational governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – the minimum wage, the trade union rights, the Good Friday Agreement. This was a party which understood that economic growth and social progress went hand in hand.

It was also a party which understood how critical it was that Britain played a leading role on the international stage. Labour joined the government of national unity which won World War II, founded NATO, stood firm against terrorism and played a leading role in the European Union.

Now, this approach – the one which the British people supported by returning Labour to government – has been cast aside.

Labour has undergone a profound change since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015 – change which has destroyed the proud political movement built by our predecessors. Labour is now characterised by intolerance, and is fuelled by hatred for anything other than a hard-left agenda. The party fosters division rather than unity – and despises anyone who dares to disagree with its leader or its approach.

On the economy, John McDonnell’s plans would chill the very marrow of our country, destroying jobs, stifling innovation, and hurting businesses large and small.

On foreign policy, Jeremy Corbyn would put our national security at risk. Far from being the ‘man of peace’ his supporters hail him as, his ideology leads him to blame the United States, Israel and the West for all our ills, while he welcomes Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ and sympathises with Putin’s Russia. His response to the barbaric chemical weapons attacks in Syria was to oppose intervention, while he blames the starvation in Venezuela on Washington.

And then of course there’s Brexit. This farce may have been inflicted upon us by the Tories but Jeremy Corbyn is guilty of an appalling betrayal. He failed to campaign with any enthusiasm for Remain in 2016, and now he is refusing to back giving you the final say before we crash out of the EU on March 29.

All of this would be bad enough without the appalling change in culture within Labour. The ‘broad church’ of old, which encouraged a wide spectrum of progressive thinking, is now destroyed, dismantled over a period of time by Corbyn supporters organised to intimidate and invalidate any strain of thought contrary to that of the leadership. Complete loyalty is now demanded to a leader who has done next to nothing to deserve it – not least by his refusal to take action on the disgusting surge in anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks.

I cannot support it. I cannot and will not be part of a political force which deliberately sets out to divide and rule.

Labour is a party beyond redemption. There is no way back. At all levels, the leadership has taken control. We are faced with both a government that is out of ideas and out of road, and an opposition which is unfit for power. Our politics is broken and it has to change.

That is why I have decided to join with my colleagues in forming the Independent Group. It is time for change; time for a politics no longer dominated by political parties who are acting not in your interests, but in their own.

It is time to put the country first.