Whatever happened to The Independent Group?

By Roisin Smith

There is a lot going on in British politics at the moment. One minute MPs are taking a vote, the next there is talk of a general election; Theresa May might be resigning; we might not even be Brexiting and it just goes on. In Durham, especially then, you might be forgiven for not being entirely sure of what is happening in UK politics. An example of this disquiet came in the form of the resignation of several Labour and Conservative party members, who proceeded to form The Independent Group. At the time, this was breaking-news, yet just a month later it has already faded into the background amid a milieu of chaos. I want to know what has happened to this so-called Independent Group and what the future might hold for them.

Politics is broken. Let’s change it.

On their website, the first thing that the reader sees are the words ‘Politics is broken. Let’s change it.’ Given what I’ve already said, it seems difficult to dispute the first half of their slogan. Yet, my immediate thought is – how on Earth are they going to do anything about it? All the information on their website relates to how politics needs to change and how this cannot be achieved through the structure of existing parties. They represent themselves as the radical and alternative solution. I object to this. The problem is, at present, they are not a viable alternative, they are not even a pressure group; they are simply a manifestation of dissatisfaction at the existing status quo. As of yet, they are not even a registered political party. Perhaps this seems overly critical, after all this is something which has occurred only within the last six weeks. However, as of yet, it is difficult to see what gap they will fill in the political spectrum and to understand what they are offering.

To better understand this, it might be helpful to understand the reasons behind the MPs’ defections. Most of the Labour MPs appeared to leave based on Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit and allegations of antisemitism. Amidst some comments that the Labour Party had moved too far left, the Conservative MPs appeared to break away due to the fact that their party has moved too far right. Uniting the two sets of MPs appeared to be their anti-Brexit approach, collectively supporting a second referendum. Several members had already been working together to campaign for a People’s Vote, all having a strong shared interest in preventing a no-deal Brexit. Whilst as of yet, they have only expressed their values as opposed to policies, they do say they will ‘pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology’. In theory, this all sounds promising, however concern remains regarding how they will unify when they come from opposing parties.

these MPs have not forfeited their seats.

Something that had not occurred to me, is that despite leaving their respective parties, these MPs have not forfeited their seats. This is of particular interest to me as my local MP was one of the Labour members who left the party. She was also the person I voted for in the last election. If you do know her name, it is most likely because after her defection, she accidentally referred to non-white people as having a ‘funny tinge’ on live television. There is a significant issue with the fact that many people will have voted for her as she represents the Labour Party. Similarly, thousands of people will have voted for the other Conservative and Labour MPs based on their particular party. Without this backing, there is little chance that any of them would have gained their respective seats. This further begs the question as to whether, if the new group was to become an official party or run in an election, it would have any chance of gaining mass public support. At the moment, they are officially the fourth biggest party with the same number of MPs as the Liberal Democrats. The difficulty is that they do not have the same reputation.

I am unconvinced that they have a future as a viable party

The future of The Independent Group, to me, seems as uncertain as Britain’s. Although I am unconvinced that they have a future as a viable party, it is promising to see that our politicians are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. Who knows, perhaps we will see them at the next election.

Photo by Michael Crilly

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