Who are The Independent Group?
The Independent Group (TIG) can be best described as a parliamentary group that cooperates together but are not a political party. Having formed just under three weeks ago, TIG comprises of eleven Members of Parliamentformerly of the Conservative and Labour parties respectively.
Why did they form?
The reasons for why this group came into existence is based on dissatisfaction towards the major parties on several key issues. Perhaps the biggest issue in question is Brexit and unhappiness towards the Conservatives and Labour for not pushing for a People’s Vote, otherwise regarded as a second referendum. Another important issue has been the case of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, which in particular has pushed former Labour MP Luciana Berger to resign, having described the party as “institutionally anti-Semitic”. Elsewhere, there is a general ideological divide that has caused these MPs to leave, with both major parties in the eyes of these MPs drifting towards more extreme factions. Chris Lesliefor example spokeof how the Labour Party had been “hijacked” by the hard-left, and that it had been advanced by a “very well-organised clique of ideologically determined people”.
What do they stand for?
With regards to platform and policies, TIG lacks a political manifesto but will likely produce one after a political party is formed. However, Chuka Umunna, the current spokesperson for TIG, has recently produced a pamphletwhich outlines his vision for the future that emphasises progressivism, but stresses that it is not an official manifesto. In his pamphlet, Umunna discusses ideas such as lowering the voting age to sixteen, state funding for political parties, and a hypothecated NHS tax to tackle problems caused by an ageing population. He rejects more traditional divides between nationalisation and privatisation and wants to tackle excessive pay in the boardroom whilst also introducing a compulsory “Citizen’s Service” for school leavers. These ideas fall under values such as unity, democracy, and internationalism.
Who is in charge?
The group does not have a leader because it is not a political party, but instead has a spokesperson, Chuka Umunna. Alongside him are fellow MPs who are responsible for other policy and group-related areas, such as Sarah Wollaston who deals with “new colleagues”. Umunna justifies the structure they haveby stating that the “roles and responsibilities” they all have represented the principle that everyone has the “right to be heard” and a “responsibility to provide leadership”, another indication that there is no clear leader of the group, and intentionally so. In short, they do not have a structure that is exactly like regular political parties, but it is fair to say that it is very similar.
What are their ambitions?
First and foremost, they have intentions to form as a political party in the not-so-distant future, having already started discussionswith the Electoral Commission. They intend on standing in Parliament in the future within a party, but for now act on their own individually, but nonetheless cooperate on voting and group-related matters. Brexit is of course at the heart of their agenda at the moment, with all MPs backing a second referendum on whether the UK should withdraw from the EU or not. They have already tabled an amendment to “break through the Brexit gridlock”. There is no talk of re-joining the former parties, either, suggesting that they intend on standing together for the foreseeable future. Chuka Umunna statedthat both major parties were “born of a different Britain” and that they are “past their sell by-dates”.
With politics comes controversy, and this group provides no exception. Angela Smith, a former Labour MP who joined TIG, caused controversy by referring to those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds as having a “funny tinge”in a discussion about race, and was soon criticised for her remarks. She later apologised, saying that she “misspoke” in a video published on Twitter.
In a more fundamental sense, there is controversy over the direction the group should take. Considering they each decided to break ranks from their parties, some argue that they should call by-elections and clarify whether their constituents still want them to be their representatives. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell statedsoon after the original seven defected that the “honourable thing for them to do” would be to call by-elections. On the other hand, Chuka Umunna stated in an interview with The New Statesman that the Labour Party had “broken its contract with constituents, not me”.