This week, the face of British politics changed. Both Labour and the Conservatives were rocked by the creation of a new group in the centre ground of politics. On Tuesday seven Labour MPs, dissatisfied by Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, resigned from the party to sit in the Commons as The Independent Group. Several, including their de facto leader Chuka Umunna MP, were pushed to go by Corbyn’s wishy-washy stance on Brexit, arguing that he should align the Labour party with a campaign for a second referendum. Others, specifically Luciana Berger MP, left due to the ongoing anti-Semitism scandal in the party. Berger has recently suffered terrible anti-Semitic abuse online, but according to her own account, Corbyn and his team at no point reached out to support her. These seven rebels held a press conference to announce that they would sit in parliament as 'The Independent Group' – notably not a typical 'party' – and encouraged other disaffected MP from all sides to join them.
Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
Their call was answered. Within 24 hours another Labour MP had joined their ranks, Joan Ryan, and on Wednesday morning three pro-EU Conservative MP’s quit their party to join the group. Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, and Sarah Wollaston left their party because they considered it to be held hostage by the right leaning, pro-Brexit European Research Group (Jacob Rees-Mogg's gang). They argue that that modernisation process begun by David Cameron is being rolled back by May’s leadership, and that their party is regressing to a more outmoded manifesto. Their defection brought the membership of The Independent Group up to eleven, equalling the beleaguered Lib Dems, and making them a significant group in the commons, as even more MPs seem to be on the verge of joining. Some rumours suggest large sections of both main parties may move to the new group – concerning for May, who will lose her parliamentary majority if just two more of her MPs defect.
This is not the first time parties have broken apart. In the 1980s, four Labour MPs, known as the 'Gang of Four', quit their party to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the centre ground. Although widely popular for a brief window, they eventually were absorbed into the Lib Dems. This time, however, the new group are not calling themselves a party, and are not doing typical party things – no official leader, no codified manifesto. Their philosophy is to base their policies on empirical evidence rather than ideology, something they see as having poisoned British politics. I personally think this sounds like an excellent idea, if not a little utopian, and I will be following the development of this group with a keen interest. It seems like this feeling is mirrored in the general populace, with one poll suggesting already that one in seven voters would support the group. Although, with politics in the state that it is, a monkey with a rosette is preferable to the main parties. Corbyn's response to the exodus from his party was a video on social media pushing the defectors to hold by-elections in their constituencies and run under their new banner as they were previously elected under the Labour manifesto. This seems reasonable, although I’m not sure eleven (and counting) important by-elections are exactly what we should be putting our energy into, considering there are now fewer than nine hundred hours until the UK exits the EU.
Over in America this week, geriatric Democrat Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the Democrat nomination for President in 2020. Sanders became something of a political celebrity when he ran in 2016 before losing to Hillary Clinton who, of course, in turn lost to Trump in the final race. Sanders, who is now 77, has faced many critics suggesting he is too old to run for the highest office in America (if he was successful he'd be the oldest Presidential candidate in US history) but the fact that his campaign reached $1 million dollars worth of donations within three and a half hours of his announcement suggests that many people have their hopes pinned on him as the man who will take down Trump. He joins an already crowed field of Democrats looking for the nomination, with at least 12 people already in the running — and it’s only two months into 2019. In the past, Sanders has called Trump a "pathological liar" and "racist", so if he did successfully reach a face-off against Trump, we could be guaranteed entertaining candidate's debates.
See you next week, mind how you go.