Luton Borough Council leader calls for by-election after Gavin Shuker quits Labour Party

Gavin Shuker MP
Gavin Shuker MP

The leader of Luton Borough Council has called for a by-election following yesterday’s announcement that Luton South MP Gavin Shuker has quit the Labour Party.

In a move predicted by pundits for several weeks, Mr Shuker joined MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey in a split to form ’The Independent Group’ as announced on Monday.

Mr Shuker has served as an MP since 2010 and has been a strong advocate for a new football stadium at Power Court.

He is also a long-standing critic of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and news of his defection was met with dismay by local Labour activists.

Cllr Hazel Simmons and Cllr Sian Timoney, leader and deputy leader of Luton Borough Council respectively, have both called for a by-election.

Markus Keaney, chairman of Luton South Constituency Labour Party (CLP), said: “There is no chance of him getting re-elected without standing on a Labour Party ticket.

“He will be absolutely annihilated and he will be confined to the dustbin of history where he belongs.

“As a CLP, we’re very disappointed that a lot of us put aside political differences with Gavin in 2017 to knock on doors and work towards his increased majority – which he only got because of Labour’s 2017 manifesto.”

The CLP notably passed a no-confidence motion in Mr Shuker last September, accusing him of failing to engage with members as well as being “divisive figure on the hard right of the party”.

Cllr Sian Timoney tweeted about the new Independent Group: “Have some integrity and resign as MPs too. Let the electorate decide in a by-election if you are worth re-electing?

“You are disrespecting and ignoring the electorate who put you there.”

Mr Shuker is a former Christian charity worker whose arrival in Parliament followed the exit of disgraced MP Margaret Moran. He later went on to serve in several shadow cabinet positions under former Labour leader Ed Miliband.

In 2015, Mr Shuker was among a band of MPs that backed Liz Kendall’s failed leadership bid. He joined 172 Labour MPs in a no-confidence motion in Corbyn the following year, backing first Angela Eagle, and then Owen Smith after her withdrawal. Smith ultimately lost with 38.2% to Corbyn’s 61.8%.

The following year, in Theresa May’s snap election, Shuker gained an additonal 10,000 extra votes – increasing his majority to 18.3% – and paid tribute to a strong local campaign in his victory speech.

In a public statement, Mr Shuker said on Monday: “I have today resigned my membership of the Labour Party.

“My decision to leave the Party is rooted in my commitment to the constituents of Luton South and to making decisions in their best interests.

“Today, the Labour party is riddled with anti-Semitism, it presents a threat to our national security and it’s perfectly content to enable the hard Tory Brexit that will directly and negatively affect people in Luton.

“From now on, I’ll be grouping together with other MPs to form The Independent Group – a group intent on working in the national interest, rather than under the instruction of any party.

“That means we’re committed to acting in your interest, making decisions which lead to the best possible outcomes for the people of Luton South.

“At a national level, I hope you’ll agree that politics, as it is, is broken.

“None of the parties are providing the leadership that we need at this moment of crisis, and you’ve been trying to tell us this for a long time - not just since Brexit.

“That’s why my hope is that the actions I’ve taken today, alongside others, will enable us to change politics, together.

“It has been an immense privilege to serve as your MP for nearly a decade so far.

“I’m grateful for the support I’ve had from constituents this far and I look forward to your continued backing in this new venture.”