You’ve heard the news, I’m sure. On the morning of 18 February, seven MPs – Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, and Chuka Umunna – resigned from the Labour Party and announced the formation of The Independent Group, a new political alliance of centrist, pro-EU MPs.
The next evening, Labour MP Joan Ryan joined them. Then, on Wednesday 20 February, Tory MPs Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, and Sarah Wollaston all resigned from the Conservative Party and joined The Independent Group, bringing its membership to eleven MPs, the same as the Liberal Democrats, or two taxis.
It is an absolute disgrace that Luciana Berger, a fantastic MP, has been forced out of the Labour Party by vicious anti-Semitic bullying from members and no sufficient support by those in power. But are we really meant to believe all the rest are similarly against racism? Angela Smith, after announcing her resignation at 10.30am, had by 12pm referred to people of colour as having ‘a funny tinge’. Her excuse? She was tired.
But what even is The Independent Group and what does it stand for? I honestly couldn’t tell you. They aren’t a political party, but instead a ‘grouping’ of independent MPs. Officially, they’re a private company so they aren’t subject to the same electoral scrutiny and therefore their funding isn’t public. They have no members and, as they have yet to trigger any by-elections, no mandate to the electorate either.
They also have no policies. Centrism, whilst lauded by journalists and media luvvies, is a famously woolly term – it really doesn’t mean anything. ‘Not Corbyn’ and ‘Not May’ is hardly a manifesto. These eleven MPs have not been brought together by any common ideology or outlook. Their only uniting feature is that they all oppose Brexit. How this distinguishes them from the Liberal Democrats – whose centrist, Pro-EU party was monumentally rejected in the 2017 general election – is anyone’s guess.
Umunna called this ‘a politics fit for the here and now’, but really this lot are the Lib Dems 2.0, who are all too afraid to confirm their mandate with by-elections. The idea they represent some kind of ‘new’ politics is utterly ridiculous: at a Q&A after her resignation Anna Soubry called austerity ‘marvellous’.
These MPs purely stand for a dying posh political class who favour the same old neo-liberal policies when what the country really needs is investment and economic stimulation. And if you think that their growth from seven to eleven in the space of 48 hours is impressive and the sign of popularity, don’t. I imagine they planned rather cunningly to stagger their resignations to give the appearance of a snowballing momentum for centrism.
Chris Leslie said, ‘We don’t believe right now, at this moment of national crisis, a general election would be right for the country.’ In reality, a general election is the only way out of this current Tory-Brexit mess. And as their fellow People’s Vote campaigners often smugly ask: ‘How can they be afraid of more democracy?’
So what next? Undoubtedly more resignations. But in the long run, this will only achieve the obliteration of the Liberal Democrats: their selling point is the same, but The Independent Group have the sole benefit of being more new.
Historically the centre-ground has always been an arid political wasteland. These MPs represent a political class standing for the kind of status quo that was resoundingly rejected in the EU referendum. The Independent Group are out of touch, out of date, and will always be out of government.