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MP's leave main parties to form new Independent Group

Is this the start of a new party? What are its chances?

Photo Credit:UK Parliament

EIGHT LABOUR AND three Conservative MPs walked out on their parties last week and joined forces to form “The Independent Group.”Currently lacking a leader, a manifesto, experience, and an at least vaguely inspiring name, the group has so far made little clear except its frustration at the direction and leadership of both main parties, especially their positions on Brexit. Members of the Independent Group include Chuka Ummuna (formerly Labour) and Anna Soubry (formerly Conservative), who are vocal supporters of the People’s Vote campaign, which supports a referendum on the final terms of the divorce.

Calls for by-elections are hammering down upon the 11 members on the basis that they were elected as representatives of their former parties, whose values they have just emphatically rejected. Although most of them come from Remain-voting constituencies, potentially bolstering their re-election chances, there is no guarantee they will retain their seats. Following a blundering remark barely two hours after the official launch of the supposedly inclusive group about people from ethnic backgrounds having a “funny tinge”, former Labour MP, Angela Smith, might be top of the list for the electoral chop. The move comes during this critical period for Britain in which both main parties appear stretched to breaking point. Labour seems to be doubtfully edging towards backing a People’s Vote after months of dithering, with many of its MPs supporting continued membership on a personal level while fearing the backlash that may result from Leave-voting constituencies.

The Conservative Party is stumbling through a different ideological turmoil, compromising its traditionally pro-business outlook in an attempt to pacify the concerns over immigration expressed in the 2016 referendum result and this is reinforced by the extreme right of its party. Labour’s prospects of surviving the next general election intact are also hampered by the accusations of anti-Semitism which led to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn launching an investigation in 2016. This has done little to restore the reputation of the Labour Party, continually tarnished by fresh complaints, nor apparently to solve the problem: Luciana Berg-er, another founding member of the Independent Group, cited the “corrosive culture” of anti-Semitism as one of her reasons for turning her back on the party. Former Labour MP, Ian Austin, has also quit for this reason, though does not intend to join the Independent Group. Divisions have shaken both parties to their respective cores and called into question their relevance in modern-day British society. The creation of the Independent Group is seen by some as a belated reaction to an outdated two-party system. But what are its prospects in concrete terms? Is this a déjà vu of the rapidly-extinguished launch of the Social Democratic Party in 1981? Or does the Independent Group have the potential to instigate real change, especially in regard to Brexit?

Both Labour and the Conservatives are weakened by the loss of numbers, though as most of the 11 MPs have already demonstrated a flamboyantly rebellious disregard for the party line over Brexit, the loss in terms of Parliamentary arithmetic is not great to either side for this issue. Yet they may aim to be the mirror-image of UKIP, trying to derail the course of Brexit with limited seats but a healthy dose of righteous ideology. In the long run, the extensively criticised first-past-the-post system hardly looks upon small parties with a benevolent eye. Promising early polls for the group seem not to take account of the fact that they could fizzle out as early as the next election. Ultimately, the launch may turn out to be nothing more than a refreshingly fearless expression of gripe turned into action, a declaration of desire to forge new ground. It might also be the start of something much bigger. Any hope of gaining pro-EU voters was severely dented when Labour soon came out in favour of a second referendum

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