Just as the Limehouse Declaration was a stepping stone to the SDP, so the Independent Group is one to a new political party (or so we must presume). When this is formed and the seven defecting MPs join it, they should stand down from the Commons and contest by-elections, presuming they wish to return. The same goes for any MPs who join the group over the next few days and weeks, including of course Conservative ones.
That will be then. However, it doesn’t follow that Chuka Umunna and company should stand down now and prepare to fight by-elections. Resigning the whip is not to be confused with changing party. Furthermore, if one should be compelled to contest a by-election for losing the whip voluntarily, why not for losing it on compulsion? If that logic applied, the party machines would have the power, in effect, to force by-elections whenever it pleased them.
It isn’t obvious to us that the whips should have had the power to bundle out, say, Charlie Elphicke – who was deprived of the whip without being told why, and has since had it restored to him. The best judges of whether a by-election is in order is neither CCHQ or Labour’s head office, but constituents. A proper recall system is needed to empower them to exercise that judgement. But that is another story. As we say, the moment will come when Umunna should face the voters of Streatham. But not yet.