Yesterday, alongside Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry, my MP Sarah Wollaston defected to the newly created Independent Group, founded by 8 ex-Labour politicians. Much has been said about this new group – namely their shady private company status (registered in Panama, allegedly, to avoid disclosing donations and funding). In addition, the 8 former Labour MPs were all in hot water with their local CLPs prior to leaving – so many believe they jumped before they were pushed. It has even been alleged by the Mirror that an ex-Labour MP tried to access confidential Labour data after leaving the party.
Most of us knew it would only be a matter of time before Chuka Umunna and his band of smarmy centrists grew in number – and the 3 Tory defectors were highly predictable additions. Each MP, in their press releases and letters of resignation, largely covered the same topics: Brexit, Corbyn, the ERG, anti-semitism and ‘moderate’ politics. In a twist of hilarious irony, the 11 MPs are all vocal supporters of a second Brexit referendum but refuse to give their constituents the ultimate ‘People’s vote’, and stand in a by-election to actually get a mandate in their new party.
Let me narrow my focus now, from the 11 MPs to Wollaston. Dr Sarah Wollaston is one of the campaigners for a second referendum on Brexit and a vocal critic of leaving the EU – despite the fact that she actually voted in Parliament for the UK to leave, as well as for the triggering of Article 50.
Many centrists have clamoured to praise Wollaston for being “principled”, “compassionate” and for “putting the country’s interests over her own”. I’m here to refute all 3 of those statements. A quick glance at her voting record will tell you all you need to know.
Firstly, she is a doctor. This has garnered her some praise from individuals wishing to credit her with “standing up for the NHS”. It is worrying, then, that Sarah voted for some of the more damaging healthcare reforms put forward by her government. She criticised Cameron’s reform of the NHS in 2011, which opened up the door for more privatisation of healthcare, saying it would result in the NHS “going belly up”. One of the bill’s most controversial reforms was to remove the Health Secretary’s responsibility for the health of British citizens, which had been in place since 1948. Eventually, she ended up voting for the bill anyway.
Wollaston also refused to vote in favour of forcing social care providers to act in-line with the European Convention of Human Rights. This is concerning given social care providers oversee the care of society’s most vulnerable. In fact Sarah doesn’t seem to be a fan of enshrined rights for all as she actually voted to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, and the EU charter of Fundamental Rights.
As a doctor, she will have no doubt come into contact with some of the most vulnerable in society – the elderly and disabled. This is particularly troubling when you consider she voted:
- For the bedroom tax (which massively affected the poorest in society)
- To introduce Universal Credit
- Against raising benefits in line with the cost of living
- To cut benefits for the ill and disabled
- To freeze working age benefits
- Against exempting Cancer patients from ESA claim time limits
This new Independent Party like to make noise about Brexit affecting the poorest and most vulnerable, but it’s important to note that when it really counts, said MPs don’t do anything to stop the cuts. In 2015, under Ed Miliband, swathes of Labour MPs abstained from the Welfare bill – which lowered the cap on benefits, abolished legally binding child poverty targets, cut child tax credits, cut ESA and cut housing benefit for young people. Every single one of the 8 Labour defectors abstained – allowing the bill to pass.
I abhor this idea that centrist politics is somehow “sensible” by default, because it sits in the middle and casts everyone left or right of it as “extreme” or “radical”. We know this isn’t the case – the Blair years showed us that it is quite possible to inflict damage (both domestically and abroad) under the guise of Third way centrism.
Equally abhorrent is the suggestion that my MP Wollaston is somehow a brave, heroic bastion of conviction, for joining a new party which, let’s face it, is scarcely that different to the party she left! She calls herself a feminist but refused to vote to ensure her party undertook a comprehensive impact assessment on their policies, to mitigate the negative affect austerity has on women. She’s also voted against Equality commissions reporting upon the Tories’ handling of the gender pay gap. And let’s not get into her views on the Niqab!
She’s definitely not a moderate, with her views on taxation, welfare and environmental issues being completely in-line with those on the right of her former party. The only way she differs is Brexit – for now (she was a staunch Leaver until June 2016).
The reality of the new party is that they are anti-Brexit but pro-austerity. Anna Soubry has already said she has no issues with the Coalition’s austerity agenda. Therefore, it is utterly farcical that anyone claiming to hold true Labour values would even consider joining or supporting this new party, just because they can’t accept the democratic decision made by the electorate that Britain is leaving the EU. For ex-Labour MPs like Joan Ryan and Angela Smith to say they are “Labour through and through” in their resignation letters, but join the party which has no problem advocating policies resulting in the deaths of over 120,000 people, shows their values could not be any more different to those of Labour.
Let me be entirely clear. Wollaston might like to kick up a fuss for the cameras or turn on the crocodile tears, but when it really matters, like the other Tory and Labour defectors, she votes in HER best interests – not those of the country. She doesn’t represent me, and she definitely doesn’t represent large swathes of my constituency here in Devon. The new Independent Group is one of the most elaborate vanity projects seen in British politics for decades, orchestrated by a group of politicians who were deeply unpopular in their former parties. It’s time she and the other 10 stop thinking of themselves for a change – step aside, call a by-election and give your constituents a REAL people’s vote!
By Lauren Davison