What is the Future Britain Group and will it make any difference?
Third of Labour MPs attend first meeting of Tom Watson’s ‘social democrats’
A third of the parliamentary Labour Party has attended an inaugural meeting of deputy leader Tom Watson’s Future Britain Group.
About 80 of Labour’s 245 MPs gathered on Monday night to hear Watson, who warned that “unless we restore pluralism and tolerance to this party, it will be irreparably damaged and we will see a schism bigger than any we have experienced in our long history”.
It was “a hell of a turnout for something which is *definitely not* a party within a party, a new anti-Corbyn faction, or a Watson leadership vehicle”, quips Politico.
So what is the Future Britain Group?
Future Britain was set up by Watson to stem defections from the party following the resignations last month of nine MPs, eight of whom joined the new Independent Group.
A total of about 150 people, including some 70 peers, crammed into a Commons committee room for the launch of Watson’s new group - which he has styled as “social democrats”. He told them: “It is to defend those traditions that I’ve invited you here. Not just because it’s critical for the future of the Labour Party but because these traditions are critical to the... nation.”
Intensifying “fears in the Labour high command that Watson is in effect establishing a party within a party”, Watson said that the group would make policy in at least nine different areas, and that he wanted to find a way for Labour members and councillors to get involved, reports The Times.
Last month, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the new group was necessary.
“For very understandable reasons to do with the challenge to Jeremy a couple of years ago and some MPs not wanting to serve, we’ve not got a balance of the traditions on our frontbench,” the deputy leader said. “We can handle that but it does mean there needs to be a different way of making sure those traditions, their voice, is expressed in a different way on policymaking.”
Who is backing Future Britain?
The group is a who’s who of New Labourites and Corbyn-sceptics. The inaugural meeting was attended by 12 former cabinet ministers, including Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, David Blunkett, John Prescott and Peter Hain.
Neil Kinnock - who was joined by his wife, Glenys Kinnock, and their son, MP Stephen Kinnock - told attendees there needed to be a championing of “democratic socialist values” and “achievable, possible and affordable policies”.
At least 13 members of the shadow frontbench were also there, including shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald, “although some present thought he had attended to report back to loyalist MPs”, adds The Times.
The group’s convenor, MP Darren Jones, told the BBC that it was “not a faction” but rather “the coming together of previous factions into the mainstream of the Labour Party”.
Lord Mandelson agreed, telling the meeting it represented a “coming together of the TB-GBs” - a reference to the long standing divisions between those loyal to Tony Blair and those backing Gordon Brown when Labour was in power in the mid-2000s.
Will it make any difference?
A former cabinet minister told HuffPost that the group was “the only chance for the Labour Party”, adding: “It’s clear the party has been seized [by the Left] and asset stripped.”
Jones insisted that the group was all about policy, allowing MPs to be heard “without fear of being isolated or criticised or receiving hate speech”. The MP once again insisted that it was “not a party within a party” and was not like the Tory party’s European Research Group.
But not everyone is convinced, with suspicions fuelled by claims in The Spectator that Watson registered the group’s name online some weeks before he unveiled the plan.
“It will all add to the sense of paranoia growing day by day in Jeremy Corbyn’s office,” says Politico.
A source from Corbyn’s office told the BBC that “huge advances in policy has been the hallmark of Jeremy’s leadership, exciting millions across the UK”.
“If this group contributes to that, good,” the insider said. “The proof will, of course, be in the eating.”