The action by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, acting on Starmer’s instructions, to deny Jeremy Corbyn the right to represent Labour at the next general election stands in marked contrast to the way in which he has welcomed back into the fold the likes of Mike Gapes. In February 2019 Gapes resigned from the Labour Party as MP for Ilford South – a seat he had held since 1992 – in order to join six other Labour MPs as well as some Tories to form the Independent Group for Change, subsequently renamed Change UK. In the December 2019 general election he stood as the candidate for Change UK in his constituency of Ilford South but was trounced by the official Labour candidate, Sam Tarry, the partner of Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner. Starmer went on to sack Tarry as Shadow Transport Minister last year for appearing on a rail workers’ picket line and he has subsequently been deselected as the Labour candidate for Ilford South.
In expressing his gratitude to Starmer for accepting him back into the Labour Party, Gapes said that it was a
“tribute to the hard work already done [by Starmer] to change our party: to face the electorate, to root out antisemitism, support business, to celebrate patriotism and our NATO membership, not chastise it.” (Independent, 7 March 2023)
To this Starmer added in an apparent endorsement of the action taken by Gapes and his fellow defectors in 2019
“I know there is more to do, and am really pleased that Mike will be with us in this ongoing work to change our party so that we can change our country and deliver our missions for a better Britain.” (ibid.)
It should be added that Jeremy Corbyn has not been found guilty of any expression of anti-semitism despite the all-enveloping cloud of media distortion that surrounded him on this issue. The sole basis for Starmer’s actions relate to Corbyn’s statement that the extent of anti-semitism within the Labour Party had been exaggerated for political purposes. Note also that there is no mention of Brexit in Gapes’ statement. In fact it was the failure of Corbyn as leader of the party to clearly come out against Brexit that was the binding force that went into the creation of the Change UK group which Gapes had helped to found. The charge of anti-semitism in the Labour Party had no resonance among the Tory members of the group such as Tory MEP Julie Girling and Richard Ashworth. To them it was all about Brexit and that is how the group presented itself to the electorate. Now, however, as far as Gapes is concerned that is no longer an issue.
It should also be added that the rehabilitation of Gapes follows on from the similar rehabilitation that Starmer has bestowed on one of Gapes’s cohorts in Change UK, Luciana Berger in February. After helping to establish Change UK Berger joined the Liberal Democrats in September 2019, having said just two months earlier that she had no such intention. She gave as her primary reason for joining the Liberal Democrats their clear anti-Brexit platform. She subsequently became the Liberal Democrats spokesman for health, wellbeing and social care. In the December 2019 general election she stood as the official Liberal Democrat candidate in the Finchley and Golders Green constituency in opposition to the official Labour candidate, Ross Houston. The seat was won by the Tory candidate Mike Freer.
As to the other five of the 2019 magnificent seven Labour renegade MPs: Chuka Umunna, has since become an investment banker with JP Morgan Chase as Managing Director of its Environmental, Social, Governance advisory group in London; Angela Smith, went on to become a member of the Board of Portsmouth Water as an independent non-executive member having previously voiced her opposition to the nationalising of England’s water industry and in 2021 she joined the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (which governs greyhound racing in Great Britain) as an independent director; Chris Leslie has since found his home as Chief Executive of the Credit Services Association, the trade association of the UK debt collection and purchase industry; Gavin Shuker has become a Director and Chief Executive Officer of Cardeo Ltd., a UK. Based Financial Technology startup company; Ann Coffey unlike the others did not stand in the December 2019 general election having announced her resignation from Parliament the previous October.