Vile nonentity are words that come to mind when I think about former Labour councillor, Leon Spence: these harsh words having been used by Spence to denigrate his own leader Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.
As the Leicester Mercury announced earlier today (September 27), County Councillor Leon Spence has chosen to leave the Labour Party to stand as an independent councillor. Spence’s hostility to Corbyn and his break with Labour are of course rather unsurprising, especially as Spence is a proud member of the pro big business, New Labour pressure group, Progress.
Spence’s attacks on the Left of his own party were however launched in earnest in June 2015 when fearful of Corbyn’s presence in the leadership contest he chose to admiringly tweet a Daily Telegraph article — authored by former Blairite turned Tory journalist Dan Hodges — which made the following apparently “wonderfully accurate” prediction: “[Corbyn] can’t win. For all the grandiose rhetoric, he’s a political pygmy. He’ll be crushed. Marmalised. Utterly humiliated.”
But while at this early stage no-one could have predicted Corbyn’s stunning victory, no-one can say that Spence has not made the right decision in quitting the Labour Party. This is because Spence seems utterly incapable of understanding what many would consider to be fundamental bread and butter working-class issues.
Take for instance Spence’s recent September column for the Catholic Universe newspaper which dealt with his ill-informed criticisms of the Junior Doctors forthcoming strikes — which he described as “disproportionate from the nature of their grievance and the potential severity of their actions.” More worrying though was the rambling introduction to his (ultimately unpublished) article which repeated Tory mistruths about people dying at the weekend because we don’t have a seven day health service.
As Spence has long been a loyal member of Tony Blair’s personal fanclub (Progress) he was shocked and saddened by Corbyn’s initial rise to influence, and shortly after Corbyn’s victory he blogged about the good-old days of warmonger Blair:
“I first became a member of the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair. As thousands of traditional socialists were leaving Labour, a great many in response to the Iraq War whilst others were departing because of New Labour’s ‘neoliberal’ approach, I was marching in the opposite direction…”
Spence then clarified his commitment to New Labour ideals by observing: “Frankly I’ve never particularly given two hoots about the gap between rich and poor.”
Nevertheless at least Spence has been honest enough with himself to walk away from the Labour Party now that Corbyn has received yet another overwhelming mandate from the party’s membership. Thus Spence acknowledges that:
“[Corbyn] has earned, clearly and decisively, the right to put his agenda to the British public without further internal griping or back stabbing.” (September 27, Mercury)
Moreover Spence believed it would be “grossly hypocritical” for him to remain a member of the Labour Party given the hostile nature of his own criticisms of Corbyn and his leadership.
This final statement from Spence raises the obvious question as to whether other fellow members of Progress, like for instance recent Progress Vice Chair Liz Kendall (Labour MP, Leicester West), are also about to depart from Labour’s fold? The same question might also be asked about the potential resignation of Sir Peter Soulsby, a man who was quick and vocal in his support of the attempted coup against Corbyn (June 28, Mercury).
But holding out hope for such future resignations may be a little optimistic, especially considering that both the words gross and hypocrite are not descriptors that either Kendall or Soulsby have ever been known to shy from.