The Independent Group: Turning the Tide or a Political Blip?

BY ISSY SHANNON, UK Editor

What is ‘The Independent Group’ and will it be a major political earthquake or just a blip in history?

In what has been dubbed by some as the most significant split in British Politics since the 1980s, a group of eight Labour MPs  and three Conservative MPs have left their respective parties to form ‘The Independent group.’

The MPs; Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey, Chuka Umunna and Joan Ryan from Labour, and Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen from the Tories, say they have left behind “tribal politics.”

Firstly it is important to address why it is these MPs have crossed party lines to form a group, which some have compared to the formation of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s.  Many of the Labour MPs, including Ms Ryan who is the chair of the Labour Friends of Israel group, have left the Parliamentary Labour Party due to it being dowsed in accusations of anti-semitism. They have suggested that a party which they joined to help fight inequalities is no longer capable of doing so and in some cases fails to tackle instances of Anti-Semitism. Luciana Berger has herself fallen victim to vile antisemitic abuse on social media and puts the case forward that the Labour Party is failing to tackle this problem on the left and that it is “institutionally antisemitic.”

The Labour MPs, alongside their Tory counterparts, have also joined this group as a response to what they perceive as their leader’s failure to handle Brexit.  Just as the Labour MPs feel the party is now being run almost exclusively by the hard left, Anna Soubry the Tory MP for Broxtowe claims the party has been taken over by the right wing and “hardliners.” The Independent Group claim to stand for evidence-based policies, not led by ideology and “taking a long term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest” rather than “in the parties’ interests.” So it seems all of these MPs are unhappy, to say the least, with their parties and the system under which British Politics now runs.

But does this suggest a fundamental flaw in British Politics? Certainly, this uprising is an insight into the dissatisfaction of MPs but will this be the start of a movement like Macron’s En Marche! or will this group simply be remembered by history as a group of traitors who have abandoned their parties and their constituents, as some critics have labelled them? But with the rise of Populist movements, Brexit Rebels and Climate Change Activists it is hard to say that anything in today’s global politics would be surprising anymore.

Polls have suggested up to 14% of the public would vote for a new independent group. So perhaps this is the start of a Political Revolution as Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has already offered to work with the new group. Does this highlight there is more of an appetite in Parliament for reform than we can see from the outside?

But we will not see what Public Opinion is on this possible new centrist group unless by-elections are held in their constituencies, and this question of by-elections has amassed huge debate. Many, including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, have stated it is only fair that these rebel MPs stand again for election in their constituencies. They were previously elected on the back of the Labour manifesto and on a different mandate so it is crucial to give voters a chance to have their views represented fairly.

There is no legal onus on the independent MPs to hold a by-election unless a Recall petition is launched. But for this to take place the MP must be found guilty of wrongdoing such as a criminal conviction and the petition must be signed by 10% of constituents and take place within 6 weeks.

Others have suggested a by-election is not necessary. In our first-past-the-post system, you vote for an individual, not a party and these individuals have not changed since the 2017 general election.

Following on from this many have labelled this breakaway group a refreshing release from the two-party system which has gripped British Politics for decades. But the group has relatively little resources or ability to take on the main parties as of yet. Similarities must be drawn to the ‘gang of four’ who broke away in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party. Joined by 28 Labour MPs they had relative electoral success winning several by-elections and more than 25% of the vote in the 1983 election. However, today they have a limited impact on British Politics at a national level.

Does the same fate await this new Independent Group or are we witnessing a significant change as an increasing number of people acknowledge the failings of the current system?

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