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The Independent Group: A Bold But Empty Gesture?


The Independent Group: A Bold But Empty Gesture?

While both Labour and Tory defectors in the new Independent Group appear seemingly united, underpinning their rationales are two very different parties, with very different problems. New Atlas researcher Sophia looks at whether the TIGers can mobilise the centre ground and offer more than an anti-Brexit movement, or whether their inevitable differences will be too strong to overcome.




The creation of the Independent Group is understandable but also puzzling, as Britain’s two main parties find themselves in very different circumstances. While Labour has been consumed with allegations of antisemitism and bullying, many have been left wondering why three Tories have left a party that is trying to fulfil its manifesto pledge of pursuing Brexit.


If you separate the Independent Group’s policies beyond Brexit you will still find, at heart, Labour and Conservative MPs. Despite both main parties being split, they are of course ideologically separate. Umunna still supports greater public spending, and Soubry still supports the austerity agenda driven by the Conservative Government. While ideological differences with their native parties have brought them together, ideological differences may yet tear them apart as buried beneath the surface lie very different views on the role of the individual and the role of the state.




So can the Independent Group unite around more than disillusionment with the leading parties? More than slowing -even preventing- Brexit? Their statement of independence is worryingly empty: void of distinct policies and consisting more of vague statements that nobody could really disagree with. On the other hand, (highlighted here in a previous Atlas blog), a moderate (even if somewhat vague in TIG’s case) middle ground for the politically homeless is welcome at a time when politicians (and people) are so deeply divided.




Last week a YouGov poll placed the Independent Group at 18 percent, despite their lack of manifesto. Although the usual caveats around the reliability of polling applies, to put this in some context, Cameron called a referendum when the UK Independence Party polling at just 10%. This latest polling suggests that the electorate to some extent shares TIGer’s disillusionment with the main parties and simply favour a change -any change- from May’s shambolic handling of Brexit and the hard-left of Corbyn.


These considerations are now more poignant as the Group's character shifts from an SDP-esque Labour splinter movement, to a political grouping with the potential for electoral influence. The First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system has historically smothered small parties before they even get started, and this will surely be no different. Once the novelty of their creation has worn off, whether they have the potential for electoral success is yet to be seen.





One option on the table is to facilitate some form of merge with the Lib Dems, however this comes with its own baggage and further dilutes the possibility for consensus as a third party enters the mix. The extent of agreement within the Group on Lib Dem involvement is already contentious, with some avoiding the question and some seemingly suggesting they’re all welcome.


Regardless of how you look at it, it’s bold. To cross the benches and collaborate with your opposition on forming a new parliamentary group takes some guts. But once the novelty wears off, will they unite and change political history, or be remembered as an idealistic but ultimately hollow faction? We will be watching with interest.