Labour and Conservative MPs sitting shoulder to shoulder in the House of Commons is a genuinely unprecedented occurrence. But you’d be forgiven for needing to Google at least five of the new Independent Group. This isn’t like the Gang of Four resignations, all of whom were high profile cabinet ministers, and there’s nothing to suggest that the Independent Group are actually going to have a lasting impact on the political system.
In ten years’ time, when your colleague asks you to name every single member of the Independent Group in a late night, nostalgia-fuelled exchange, I doubt you’ll even be able to three of them. They’re not about to radically alter the balance of power in Parliament and they’re not about to present a shiny, new manifesto to the British people.
“Politics is broken. Let’s change it,” said the Independent Group, “We want to develop a different approach”. Yet they claim to have not changed at all. You might question this assertion if you remember that Anna Soubry’s 2017 election leaflet said “I accept and will continue to honour the EU Referendum result” and Heidi Allen said to her constituents, “If I am re-elected as your MP, I am not going to waste time, precious time, resisting Brexit from happening”. Their message seems self-contradictory from the get-go.
The Independent Group do not represent a new way of doing politics. In fact, what they do represent is not clear at all. They seem to have resigned and formed this new group without any prior discussion of policy. It’s like showing up to class without having done the required reading and having to blag your way through.
Shortly after her defection from the Tory party, Anna Soubry declared that austerity “was absolutely necessary” and Chris Leslie signalled his opposition to Labour’s policy of renationalisation, the abolition of tuition fees and revealed that he is not too keen on increasing the top rate of tax from 45% to 50%. The same was repeated by Heidi Allen on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, whilst Luciana Berger seemed less inclined to throw her weight behind these policies and suggested that she would support greater investment in early years education.
However, nobody seemed to want to actually commit to any particular policy other than backing a second referendum. To top it all off, Heidi Allen said she would back Theresa May in a confidence vote, despite having just resigned from her party.
It will be interesting to see whether this group of MPs from two opposing parties can collectively get behind one policy on austerity and tuition fees or whether they will clash over the direction in which they wish to take the group. If they are to be successful as a political party, they will need to be unified on more than the UK’s membership of the EU, and they will need to bridge the ideological gap between the MPs who themselves have highlighted that they are “of different backgrounds”.
Right now, all The Independent Group MPs have done is made a bold statement against their party leaders that they will not tolerate their handling of Brexit (or, in the Labour party’s case, of anti-semitism). But politics is about more than bold statements. For now, they are just the same old politicians, who make speeches with sound bite after sound bite and who appear to say loads without saying anything at all.
There is nothing new in the way that they are doing politics, and for now, they’re going nowhere, fast.