Labour Party split: Ilford South MP Mike Gapes must hold by-election, says Redbridge Council leader
PUBLISHED: 11:32 19 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:13 19 February 2019
Redbridge Council's Labour leader Jas Athwal is calling for an Ilford South by-election after MP Mike Gapes resigned from the party yesterday.
Mr Gapes, joined by six other rebel MPs, announced his decision to leave the party to form a rival “Independent Group” at a press conference yesterday morning (February 18) – citing antisemitism and Brexit.
In the immediate aftermath of the conference, Cllr Athwal released a statement lamenting Mr Gapes’ decision but making no mention of a desire for a by-election.
Later that evening, during a television interview, he added that the “honourable thing to do” would be for the former Labour member to hold such an election.
The Recorder asked the council leader why he had decided to call for Mr Gapes to trigger a by-election.
“I am saddened that Mike has done what he has done. He has been a great MP,” said Cllr Athwal.
“When someone leaves the Labour Party because they feel they have mandate – they should always test that mandate out.
“He needs to realise that people voted for Mike in the Labour Party – not Mike the man.”
Cllr Athwal said that the Labour Party has not yet selected a parliamentary candidate for Ilford South.
“There is a due process that every one will have to go by,” he said. “That is enshrined in stone.”
Asked whether he would consider running, he added: “There is a danger of getting distracted by what may or may not happen.”
Cllr Athwal also hinted that by-election could take place after the looming March 29 deadline for exiting the European Union.
“I think what would happen is that the by-election would be on the other side of the Brexit deal,” he said, asked whether now is the right time for such a vote.
In response to calls from some to resign as an MP and force a by-election, Mr Gapes told the Recorder yesterday that he is staying put.
“We are in the middle of the Brexit process – the last thing the country needs is a by-election,” he said.
Responding to Cllr Athwal’s comments, Mr Gapes added: “I was honest with my constituents in 2017 and I am honest now – my views have not changed.”
He insisted his personal election address was delivered to every one of his voters, unlike the Labour Party’s manifesto.
“In [my address] I said I would be a strong pro-European voice; that I would fight to stay in the single market and customs union; that I would be a strong support for NATO and national defence,” he said.
“Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who is facilitating Brexit. He is stopping a People’s Vote from happening.”
He said he also campaigned on his personal record of fighting for the King George Hospital.
Ilford North MP Wes Streeting told the Recorder: “I am not getting into the issue of by-elections.”
“This is a decision for Mike to make.
“He is ultimately accountable to the people of Ilford South.”
“As Mike has made it clear he plans to serve out his term as the MP for Ilford South, I will continue to work with him as I have always done in the interests of the people of Ilford.”