The crisis within the Labour Party has deepened following a stormy meeting of its members in the wake of the resignations of seven MPs.
Tempers flared during heated discussions at the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday night, just hours after seven MPs quit in protest at the party’s leadership, its handling of Brexit and anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks.
In an emotional intervention at the meeting, Ruth Smeeth said she and another Jewish MP, Louise Ellman, had been told by a party member they did not have “human blood”, but no action had been taken against the individual concerned.
Seven MPs walked out of the party on Monday, condemning leader Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit as well as his handling of the anti-Semitism issue, in potentially the most significant split in British politics for a generation.
Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey said they would be sitting as a new independent alliance in the Commons and urged MPs – from Labour and other parties – to join them.
There have been reports that two Tory MPs are considering leaving the Conservative Party to join the independents.
Mr Umunna signalled that a new centre party could be formally created by the end of the year.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I would like to see us move as quickly as possible and certainly by the end of the year, but that’s my personal view.”
He added: “There needs to be an alternative, so that’s perfectly possible. But I don’t get to determine this.”
Mr Corbyn has been warned that more Labour MPs could quit amid fears the party may “disintegrate”.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called for a “mammoth listening exercise” after the resignations.
He told Sky news: “We need a mammoth, massive listening exercise and (to) address some of those criticisms that have been made.”
Mr McDonnell played down suggestions that as many as 36 Labour MPs had been considering a split.
He said: “I don’t think there is that scale, but the key issue for us – and it was made clear at the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tom Watson said it and others – the Labour leadership, and I’m part of that, we need to keep listening, bring people in, talk to them.”
Former Labour home secretary David Blunkett said: “We are facing the potential disintegration of the Labour Party and the end of its existence as a serious political force.”
Writing in the Daily Mail, he said: “There are major implications, not just for Labour but for British democracy. That is why these departures matter to us all.”
Deputy leader Tom Watson said other MPs are considering leaving the party.
He said: “Even a single incident of antisemitism in the Labour Party shames us. Now we have lost Luciana, one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs.
“If someone like Luciana no longer believes there is a home for her in the Labour Party then many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay.”
He added: “I confess I feared this day would come. And I fear now that unless we change, we may see more days like this.”
Party chairman Ian Lavery faced an angry backlash at the PLP meeting on Monday.
Labour sources said Mr Lavery stressed the leadership’s commitment to rooting out anti-Semitism at what was described as a “heated” behind-closed-doors gathering at Westminster.
But his claims were greeted with derision by some of those present with accusations that he failed to understand the “enormity” of the problem.
At the PLP, a number of MPs turned their fire on the leadership after Ms Berger, who is Jewish, told a press conference she was ashamed to be a member of a party which was “institutionally anti-Semitic”.
Mr Lavery was said to have have expressed anger at the claim, saying that if the party was anti-Semitic he would not be a member.
After the meeting, Ms Ellman said. “It was appalling. He (Mr Lavery) showed no understanding of the enormity of what is going on.”
Ian Austin, a long-standing critic of Mr Corbyn’s leadership, said Mr Lavery’s performance had only made the situation worse.
“The party has got to show it is tackling anti-Semitism. I don’t think he came close to demonstrating the leadership understand the scale of the problem we have,” he said.
“I think it will result in people thinking long and hard about their position in the party.”
Another MP left the meeting saying: “It was a complete and utter waste of time – a dialogue of the deaf.”
A party source said Mr Lavery had spelt out the measures being taken to deal with the “appalling abuse”.
Mr Watson called on Mr Corbyn to reshuffle his frontbench team so it better reflected the balance of opinion in the PLP where many MPs reject the leader’s left-wing agenda.