How will The Independent Group fare?

This article was first published on February 18th 2019, for

It can’t be quite described as another political earthquake, given that it has been the subject of speculation for years and intensely in recent days. Nevertheless, another week in UK politics has started with a bombshell. Seven Labour MPs have quit the party and formed a new group in parliament, calling themselves The Independent Group, or TIG for short.

Breakaway aim for a new collaborative politics

Their reasons for leaving were made crystal clear. They oppose Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, agenda, accusing the party of being institutionally anti-semitic and rotten to the core. Their own agenda moving forward, however, is both radical and vague.

Chuka Umunna – who will be at least seen as the leader – spoke of a new movement that reaches beyond Britain’s ancient and tribal left/right split, to find 21st century political solutions. It was eerily reminscent of Emmanuel Macron’s leadership pitch and, in a British context, drew instant comparisons with the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

History suggests this will hurt Labour’s vote share

The UK political system and Labour Party have seen it all before. In 1981, four prominent Labour MPs launched a new party with their Limehouse Declaration. Soon they would form the Alliance alongside the old Liberal Party.

They immediately generated tremendous public excitement, winning by-elections and famously at one stage leading national polls. They regularly polled in the mid-twenties throughout the 1980s but proved extremely ineffective at taking parliamentary seats. Eventually they rebadged as the Liberal Democrats, led by Paddy Ashdown.

Their impact was significant, especially on Labour, but ultimately the project failed for reasons that probably still apply today. Most voters are more tribal than the seriously engaged, political class realise. They love the idea of something new, a ‘none of the above’ option, but can just as equally switch back after the scrutiny of an election.

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