Lansons Conversations

Growing pains: the strength and weakness of the Independent Group

The coming together of former Labour and Tory MPs in the new Independent Group will be no easy exercise. By and large, the former Labour ones are opposed to Tory rule and believe in an alternative Government. The former Tory ones – notably Anna Soubry – continue to be on the centre right, but simply find themselves unable to continue to sit in the same party as a Prime Minister committed to taking Britain out of the EU.Anna Soubry

This is crucial, and immediately weakens the group’s hand if and when some important decisions need to be made on policy areas beyond Brexit. The reason is this: however much Anna Soubry attempted to provide an excuse for leaving the Conservatives equivalent to those of her former Labour colleagues, she cannot. Despite her protestations of entryism from former UKIP members and that the party is in hoc to extreme groups, the reality is that, Brexit aside, Anna Soubry and Theresa May are not all that different sorts of Tory, and the Conservative leadership remains mainstream and moderate. She also cannot in any way compare the evolution of the Conservative Party to that of Labour in recent years. The Tories have manifestly not shifted ground on domestic policy areas – they simply haven’t focused on anything other than Brexit for the past year because they don’t have the time. There is no Corbyn equivalent on the Tory side and Soubry was kind enough to recognise that her local association remained moderate, unlike the real entryism someone like Luciana Berger felt in her own local party.

So who is joining the Independent Group next? Well, it’s clear the Lib Dems are chomping at the bit to work with them, though TIG are less keen given their branding issues. It seems fair that they’ll try and find a mechanism to fold them in over the medium term once TIG is a more established and stable brand. It’s likely also that further Labour defections will come in the next few weeks, since Corbyn shows no sign of repenting. But on the Tory side – will there be many more? Will there be any more? It takes a lot to defect, and it usually takes more than one issue to make an MP go – witness the multitude of reasons why Chuka Umunna et al jumped – so there are unlikely to be too many more Tories – if any. There simply isn’t reason enough to go, since with a soft Brexit likely to happen with the Prime Minister’s deal, all the remain Tories (bar most of the Ultra Remainers) will be reasonably satisfied.

The Independent Group will also have to start standing for something soon enough, and crowdsourcing ideas from a small section of society that will be the true believers is not a great plan if you want to appeal to the whole country. But for now, their headlines are coming from their growing number. That’s going to be both their strength and weakness.

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