A former Labour MP has said her Irish upbringing informed her decision to quit the party last week, alleging leader Jeremy Corbyn has presided over an “evil” culture of anti-semitism.
Joan Ryan, who has served as an MP for Enfield and North for 25 years, was among seven Labour MPs who defected the party to join a centreground group called ‘The Independent Group’ in defiance of Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit and anti-semitism.
Ms Ryan said it was a “terribly difficult decision” and that it had been “an enormous honour and privilege” being a member of the Labour Party.
“My mum and dad both came from Ireland. Their working lives were hard: they had manual jobs and often faced discrimination, but they wanted – and achieved – something different and better for their children,” she said.
“Good schools and my parents’ hard work gave my sisters and I a great start in life, a university education and decent jobs.”
Ms Ryan also said that she learned about the “dignity of work” and the “evil of racism” from her Irish parents.
“I saw how, through the Irish Club my dad was the secretary of, people stuck together, helped each other through the hard times, and treated each other with fairness and decency.
Three Tory MPs – Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston – have since joined the breakaway group.
She claimed that, since Jeremy Corbyn has become leader, the Labour party has “become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.
The chairwoman of Labour Friends of Israel since 2015, Ms Ryan said her backing of the group “was never a problem” before Mr Corbyn became leader that same year
“Over the past year, I have visited synagogues, attended demonstrations against antisemitism and spoken to Jewish constituents on doorsteps. On every occasion, I have seen and heard bewilderment, fear and anger,” she added. “At all times, I pledged my solidarity and promised action.”
Former Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes join Ryan and will sit as a new independent group of MPs in parliament after they announced the news at a dramatic press conference in London.
They said that they now represented “mainstream” politics and referred to how the current two-party system is unrepresentative of people’s views.
Mr Umunna, who also has an Irish background, appealed to the millions of voters he said were “politically homeless” to get involved. “We invite you to leave your parties and join us to find a new way forward for Britain.”
The group rejected the idea they should quit as MPs and trigger a series of by-elections, with critics arguing that they were voted in by constituents on the basis of delivering upon manifesto commitments.
Mr Corbyn said: “I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.”
Ms Ryan added that successive Tory governments have “caused enormous damage to my constituency and the country” and that Theresa May is being “held hostage” by the ERG faction of hardline Brexiteers.
“I will continue to fight for the values that the Labour party has traditionally upheld – for equality, the eradication of poverty and discrimination, and a fair shot at their dreams for all our children and young people,” she said.