Could This New Breakaway Labour Group Become Your New Political Home?

Today, seven Labour MPs have announced that they are leaving the party. So, what happens now?

The Independent Group

by Grazia |

‘If you are sick and tired of politics as usual, guess what? So are we.’

This is what the former Labour MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna told a press conference at Country Hall in London this morning which had been organised to announce that seven Labour MPs were leaving the party to sit as independents. They are calling themselves the Independent Group.

He deliberately spoke to anyone who currently looks at British politics and finds themselves feeling unrepresented as the crisis that is Brexit continues to unfold at breakneck speed.

In pubs everywhere, the question ‘how would you vote if there were a general election tomorrow?’ is being asked and met with uncertainty. If you’re a Conservative who voted remain you might feel disenfranchised by Theresa May’s position on Brexit. Likewise, if you’re a Labour voter with concerns about Corbyn’s response to anti-Semitism within the party you might be wondering whether you could vote for the current Labour leadership.

A recent study conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that over half of the British Public do not feel they are represented by a political party. That’s not to say that they weren’t engaged with politics, though. 84% of people surveyed said that they care who wins the next election.

These findings were echoed by a report released by theHope Not Hate campaign groupjust last month. After polling almost 33,000 people they found that more than two thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by a mainstream political party.

British politics might seem like a rolling news reel of unpredictable disasters right now, but today’s announcement has actually been a long time coming.

There has been speculation about whether the Labour Party would split ever since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015 because of his brand of left wing politics. This has only intensified since this country voted to leave the European Union in 2016 with Corbyn remaining deliberately ambiguous about his position and looked increasingly inevitable in the wake of arguments about anti-Semitism.

The Independent Group is made up of Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and Angela Smith. But, crucially, it is not actually a new political party. In fact, it's registered as a private company which means that they don't have to publicly declare where their funding comes from

So, this is not quite the ‘new centrist party’ people have been trying to gossip into existence recently. Not yet, at least. Despite the fact that they've already had their first race row. It is, rather, a group of MPs who have come together for what are evidently slightly different personal reasons.

For Jewish MP Berger, who was the first to speak today, this is unequivocally about Labour’s response to anti-Semitism. She told the press conference that she’d become ‘embarrassed and ashamed’ to belong to the Labour party and added that it had become institutionally anti-Semitic.

For former Shadow Chancellor Leslie, it’s about economic policy. Meanwhile, Umunna spoke in a way that almost sounded like he envisioned a British equivalent of Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party En Marche coming out of today’s announcement. He hailed this as the first step in the forging of a new movement and called on politicians from other parties to join the group. However, unlike France, Britain's electoral system is first past the post which makes it very difficult for small parties to win elections because we vote a party and not an individual into power. So, whether something like Macron's victory could be achieved here is up for debate.

‘For far too long, political parties in Westminster - parties of which we have been a part - have been failing you,’ he said.

He then added ‘we don't have all the answers, so we will treat people like adults and be honest about the tough choices facing Britain’.

'If you want an alternative, please help us build it. The bottom line is this - politics is broken, it doesn't have to be this way. Let's change it.’

Wild as it all sounds, there is actually precedent for this. In 1981 four Labour ministers broke away from the party under Michael Foot to form the [Social Democratic Party (SDP)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social\_Democratic\_Party\_(UK)){:target=_blank :rel=noopener noreferrer}, eventually swelling to include 35 MPs, almost drawing in a national election, forcing Foot to quit and bringing about a new era for the Labour Party.

If the Independent Group want today to be about anything, it is surely that – forcing change and ending Corbyn’s hegemony. The part of this that is unprecedented is the context within which it’s all happening: our historic decision made in a referendum to withdraw from the European Union before we knew exactly what that would entail.

What Brexit has done in British politics as it has in families and friendship groups all over the country is to expose the fault lines along which we disagree about things we, perhaps, thought we were vaguely aligned on. Similarly, the idea that any political party can have a unified and uniform stance on a subject so divisive and complex as leaving the EU has started to seem increasingly impossible.

Like our country right now, the Independent Group consists of individuals who see things slightly differently but seem to agree on one thing: the current two-party system isn’t working.

So, what now? That’s the question of the hour. The group has, as you would expect, received mixed responses. In particular, from those who do not want to see the Parliamentary Labour Party broken up.

What we do know is that it’s not only the seven MPs who have today formed the Independent Group who feel unrepresented by traditional British party politics right now. The polls tell us that people all over the country are feeling increasingly disenfranchised.

Will centrist Conservative MPs who don’t align with Theresa May’s vision of Brexit split from their party and join to? Will more Labour MPs join in? Could the Independent Group end our Brexit deadlock? Is this the beginning of a new era for British party politics or a sign that there is only more Westminster infighting to come?

That all remains to be seen.

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