An eighth Labour MP has quit the party to join the breakaway Independent Group in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Former minister Joan Ryan, who chaired Labour Friends of Israel, said that Corbyn was not fit to be prime minister and the party had become ‘infected with the scourge of anti-Semitism’ under his leadership.
Her announcement comes amid growing speculation that the group may take some members from the Conservatives.
And it came as Labour launched a consultation on changes to allow voters to force MPs to seek re-election if they swap parties.
The proposed new right to recall comes after the launch on Monday of the Independent Group by seven ex-Labour MPs including former shadow ministers Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger and Chris Leslie.
Members of the new group have indicated they will resist demands from Labour officials, including John McDonnell, to step down and seek a fresh mandate from voters in a by-election.
Ryan, who has represented Enfield North since 1997 with a break from 2010-15 and served as a minister in Tony Blair’s government, made clear she is hoping for further defections.
In a letter to constituents, she said she hoped her actions would act as a ‘wake-up call’ and ‘others will join us’.
Ryan said that under Corbyn, Labour had developed a ‘cult around the leader’, driven by an ‘ all-consuming narrative founded on rage, betrayal and the hunt for heretics’.
On the issue of anti-Semitism, she said: ‘I have been appalled and angered by the Labour leadership’s dereliction of duty in the face of this evil.’
And she added: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has enabled and allowed a toxic culture to develop in too many parts of the Labour Party.
‘And I can’t be a part of it any longer. Which is why, with a heavy heart, I have left it.’
With a poll taken on the day after the Independent Group’s launch putting the breakaway MPs on 10% support to Labour’s 26% nationally, Corbyn’s party would be hopeful of seizing back most if not all of the seats in by-election contests.
Although the Independent MPs may benefit from some personal support, all of their constituencies – with the exception of Angela Smith’s Penistone and Stocksbridge and Ryan’s Enfield North – are rock-solid Labour seats which would need a substantial swing to change hands.
In an indication that Labour expects to hold on to much of its support in any by-election, party sources said that one of the key reasons for allowing recall when an MP crosses the floor is because people cast their vote primarily for the party and its platform rather than the candidate.
At present, recall petitions can only be launched in a handful of circumstances, such as a serious breach of parliamentary rules or a criminal conviction. A by-election is forced if the petition is signed by 10% of constituents – usually around 7,000 people – within six weeks.
Labour will consult on extending the principle to cover MPs who switch political allegiance.