Time to fix politics? The birth of the Independent Group

Party members of all political colours and political anoraks alike would have looked on feeling a mixture of excitement, disappointment and confusion on Monday morning at the ‘Gang of 7’ or as they were known on social media, the #LabourSplitters, announced their resignation from the Labour party and the formation of the new Independent Group.

Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Chris Leslie. MPs from across the country, invoking memories of the ‘Gang of 4’, all used their contributions during Monday morning’s press conference to cite the range of issues behind the resignation of their party memberships. Front and centre of these issues was the lack of action taken by the Labour leadership to address accusations of anti-Semitism within the party and a clear rejection of Labour’s Brexit policy – or lack thereof.

The ‘Gang of 7’ did not have to wait long to increase their numbers. Enfield North MP Joan Ryan resigned her Labour party membership on Tuesday evening and moderate Conservative MPs Dr Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen announced their resignations early on Wednesday morning, taking up their seats on the opposition benches before Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn clashed at PMQs. Funnily enough, neither leader decided to remark on the resignations – a sign that both parties are reeling slightly from this week’s announcements and the looming spectre of further defections to come.

So what does the fledgling Independent Group stand for? At the moment, we don’t really know.

From the group’s website it is clear that there are a set of woolly, non-descript mutual principles and beliefs which encapsulate moderate, centrist politics – however there is little else to indicate where this group will stand on key domestic and foreign policy issues, and how it will now reconcile the view of former Labour and Conservative members on issues other than Brexit.

Brexit. The B word. There are few news broadcasts or conversations which do not inevitably raise the outcome 37 days in our future. Brexit, and the desire to see a ‘People’s Vote’ on the issue, is probably the one policy issue which unites the 11 Independent members. In order to maintain direction and momentum and, importantly, maintain their relevance as a political group in 38 days’ time, the Independent Group will need to quickly identify where they stand and begin selling this to dis-enchanted moderates on both sides of the House of Commons and among the electorate more widely.

One thing that is for certain, the Independent Group has certainly chimed a chord with those who felt that both of the main parties no longer represented their views – not just on Brexit, but on a range of key policy issues. The deluge of traffic on the group’s website on Monday morning meant it temporarily had to be taken down. What’s more, a You-Gov Westminster Voting Intention survey conducted this week showed that 14% of people would vote for the Independent Group if a candidate was to stand. This is more than half of the figure who indicated that they would vote for Labour (26%) and is double those who said that they would vote for the Lib Dems (7%).

With more resignations likely, and the next round of Brexit votes due to take place shortly, the Independent Group is only likely to grow in the next few days and weeks. However, forming coherent, consistent and robust policy positions which extend beyond Brexit will be vital for the new group – who could become the fourth largest sitting group in Parliament with one more resignation.

Among the sea of fracturing, disagreement and discord currently pervading the two main political parties, a reinvigorated and unified centrist political movement could however offer some a place in a political church which they thought they had lost.

Andy Hughes - Director