Eight members of parliament from the Labour Party have made the decision to split from the party with hopes of creating a new splinter group more in line with their beliefs. This was followed by three further MPs belonging to the Conservative Party also leaving to join the new independent party.

On 20 February 2019, "with a saddened heart" a joint letter was signed confirming Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen will be departing the Conservative Party to join the eight ex-Labour MPs in the new Independent Group in an attempt to create a “central” party which honours the wishes of the British public.

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The split has come following criticism of Theresa May’s handling of the UK’s departure from Europe and a view that the current government has ignored other “burning injustices in our society”, focusing too much on Brexit rather than deep-rooted issues closer to home.

In her comments, Ms Allen stated she “can no longer represent a government and a party who can’t open its eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable in society”. This sentiment was echoed by fellow leaver Ms Wollaston, who claimed Mrs May “simply hasn’t delivered on the pledge she made on the steps of Downing Street to tackle the burning injustices in our society”.

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All leavers claimed to be “saddened” over leaving their respective parties, as anyone leaving a political party they have committed their time and energy to would rightly feel. However they have arrived at a point where disillusionment became too much, and dissatisfaction with the leadership in both the Conservative and Labour parties has led the 11 now-independent MPs to seek an alternative option.

Who are the new Independent Group?

The New Independent Group – a name they seem likely to keep – is now made up of 11 former Labour MPs and three former Tories with rumours more from each party are considering joining up.

From Labour, we have Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Gavin Shuker and Joan Ryan. These MPs claimed to have left the Labour party amid discontent with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit, specifically with regards to issues surrounding immigration, foreign policy and antisemitism.

The former Labour MPs are joined by Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen of the Conservative Party, who are also unhappy with the leadership of their party and feel that Brexit is not only being mishandled but is also taking attention away with other key issues such as unemployment, homelessness and social inequality which the government promised to tackle when they took office.

Last week, former Labour MP Chuka Umunna was appointed as the Group’s overall spokesman, and it’s looking as though he’s set to take on the leadership of the new party. In his own words, Mr Umunna has said in a TV interview that he hopes to play “the biggest role” in the new independent party and it’s likely he will appoint one of the former Conservative MPs as his deputy. Despite this, Mr Umunna has also claimed it’s important that they are “all leaders” in the Group, showing confidence for a united party the UK isn’t currently seeing.

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According to former Labour MP Chris Leslie, the Independent Group are attempting to form an official party as swiftly as possible, stating “we can’t leave the British public with a choice between Corbynism and Europhobia at a General Election… we have a duty to develop a serious alternative”.

They intend to open talks with the Electoral Commission on Tuesday, 5th of March regarding the steps they need to take in order to register as an official party who can put up candidates nationwide should a snap election be called.

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Other opinions

For better or worse, the new Independent Group are certainly gaining momentum, despite only having been established less than a fortnight ago. With many hundreds of small donors putting their bankroll up to several hundreds of thousands of pounds already, they are currently actively seeking larger scale financial backing in hopes of funding central and regional offices as well as electoral campaigns in preparation for the current political disarray to cause a snap general election.

Rumours are that the Group are also undertaking discussions with other Labour and Conservative MPs who are unhappy with the current government and are considering defecting to the new party. As well as speaking with members of their previous political parties, the Group members are reaching out to dissatisfied MPs from other parties including the Liberal Democrats. In response, Nick Clegg, leader of the LibDems, has stated he has “extended the hand of friendship” to the new Group, although hopes none of his own party will defect.

In other conversations, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken out, stating that although he will not be leaving the Labour party himself, he has “a great deal of sympathy with [the Group] and what they’re saying.”

Popularity

According to a recent Opinium poll for the Observer, the Independent Group hasn’t yet made much of a substantial breakthrough in terms of public support, with just five per cent of the public surveyed saying they would vote for the Independent Group should a general election be called tomorrow. In the same poll, 37 per cent of the population said they would vote for the Conservatives, 33 per cent would vote Labour and seven per cent would vote for the Liberal Democrats.

They are also yet to make huge waves in government as an amendment they put down regarding the Brexit agreement (calling for a second referendum) was not selected by the Speaker, John Bercow. Mr Bercow also disregarded the new party when former Labour MP, Luciana Berger, was not selected by Mr Bercow during the Prime Minister’s questions.

Despite this, the new Independent Group is currently the fourth largest political group in government, with 11 members of parliament putting them in joint place with the Liberal Democrats, although there have been criticisms that the MPs should have considered holding by-elections in their constituencies when they deflected to ensure their politics still align with those of the public they represent.

As such a new party, whether they will grow in popularity or fade into the background as a small party remains to be seen. The only thing we know for certain is this is one of the biggest shake-ups British politics has seen for some time. With mounting uncertainties in government and the UK in general, we can only hope that this new party can find some equilibrium and create something which reflects the will of the British public appropriately. Maybe they’ll be able to put a stop to the squabbling and offer a united front. Time will tell.

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