The Independent Group

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Eleven MPs (8 Labour and 3 Tory) have joined The Independent Group

The Independent Group is a British political grouping of seven former Labour Members of Parliament who resigned from the party on 18 February 2019. The principal reasons cited for their departure were dissatisfaction with the Labour leadership's approach to Brexit and allegations of Antisemitism in the UK Labour Party.

Initially trending on Twitter as the #InsignificantSeven,[1] The Independent Group was joined by Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP on 19 February 2019,[2] becoming the #HatefulEight.[3]

On 20 February 2019, three Tory MPs – Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, and Dr Sarah Wollaston – resigned the Tory whip and their party membership in order to join the newly formed pro-EU breakaway organisation, The Independent Group.[4]

On 29 March 2019, Change UK - The Independent Group was registered as a political party with Heidi Allen as its interim leader.[5]

Formation

The group was founded by Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna who simultaneously announced their resignations from the Labour Party on 18 February 2019. Four of the MPs had represented the Labour and Co-operative Party and three the Labour Party.[6] Announcing the resignations, Berger accused Labour of having become "institutionally anti-Semitic".

They have urged people in other parties to join them.[7] Umunna also said that there was "no merger" with the Liberal Democrats planned: the group wants to build "a new alternative".[8]

Political reaction

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded:

"I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election."[9][10]

Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that they had a "responsibility" to resign and fight by-elections as they had been elected as Labour MPs and should seek the approval of the electorate on their new platform.

Others stressed reflection, with deputy leader Tom Watson suggesting the party had to change in order to stave off further defections.[11]

Labour MP Ian Austin warned Corbyn that there could be more defections from Labour.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union, said the seven breakaway MPs should call by-elections:

"If they regard themselves as democrats, I wonder if they are going to stand down and create by-elections" and "give their constituents the opportunity to see if they want them elected." UNISON leader Dave Prentis said that the split was "terrible news", stating that "split parties don't win elections". His comments were endorsed by GMB leader Tim Roache.

Ahead of the breakaway, Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that his party would "work with them in some form" but that the Lib Dems would not be "subsumed" by them.[12][13]

Brexit Party MEP and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said that the split was the start of realignment in British politics.

Media reports

The BBC reported that two Tory MPs were thinking of joining the group.[14]

Craig Murray tweeted:

I am willing to accept bets of any amount that the Corrupt Seven MPs get more TV time between now and their disappearance at the next General Election, than all 35 SNP MPs - with at least a ratio of 2 to 1 on #BBCQT and the #R4Today programme.[15]

Structure and funding

The group is not a registered political party, but rather a group of independent MPs without a leader. The group is supported in its aims by Gemini A Ltd, a private company[16] started by Shuker.[17][18] This company is not subject to the same restrictions on donations under UK law as registered political parties are. Berger said that the seven have funded the launch themselves.[19]

On 19 February 2019, The Herald reported that The Independent Group will not be eligible for so-called short money given to other opposition parties. The House of Commons has confirmed that short money is not available “to a new political party, if it was established in the middle of parliament”.[20]

Aims and policies

The group, whose key message is: "Politics is broken. Let’s change it", has stated that it aims to pursue evidence-led policies, rather than those led by ideology, with the group being tolerant of differing opinions. Specific values include social market economy, freedom of press, environmentalism, devolution, subsidiarity,[21] and their opposition to Brexit.[22] All support a second EU Referendum.

Shuker has stated "[we] back well-regulated business but in return we expect them to provide decent, secure and well-paid jobs", while Leslie has stressed the group is pro-NATO. Moreover, the group have stated they support a "diverse, mixed social market economy".[23] The group also oppose antisemitism and racism, with Berger and Smith accusing the Labour Party of being "institutionally racist".[24]

Controversy

Later on 18 February, founding member Angela Smith appeared on the BBC's Politics Live programme, where she said "The recent history of the party I've just left suggests it's not just about being black or a funny tin..." in relation to a comment on the BAME community and a discussion about racism in British society. The final word was partially uttered, but was widely reported to be "tinge". She apologised shortly afterwards for having "misspoken".[25][26]

Craig Murray commented:

The really scary thing about Angela Smith's "funny tinge" remark on the BBC is that neither the BBC TV News at 5pm nor the BBC Radio 4 5pm news mentioned it, despite massive puff pieces for the Corrupt Seven. Yet if @HackneyAbbott makes a mistake over a number...[27]


References

  1. "#InsignificantSeven"
  2. "Ryan’s departure means half quitter group had been no-confidenced by members"
  3. "The Independent Group becomes the #HatefulEight"
  4. "Three Tory MPs quit to join The Independent Group"
  5. "Change UK - The Independent Group"
  6. Hadfield, Miles (18 February 2019). "Four Co-op Party MPs quit the Labour Party as part of breakaway group". Co-operative News. Co-operative Press. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  7. Channel 4 News, Channel 4, 18 February 2019
  8. "Seven MPs leave Labour Party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership". BBC News. 18 February 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  9. "Statement from Jeremy Corbyn". The Labour Party. 18 February 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  10. Watts, Joe; Buchan, Lizzie (18 February 2019). "Labour MPs quit party in disgust at antisemitism, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and Brexit stance". The Independent. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  11. "More Labour MPs could leave party, deputy leader Tom Watson admits"
  12. "Labour split: seven MPs resign from the party – Politics live". The Guardian. 18 February 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  13. Cowburn, Ashley (3 February 2019). "Vince Cable vows to 'work with' rebel MPs as he claims 'real chance' of Labour breakaway". The Independent. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  14. "More Labour MPs and some Tories could join new group - Chuka Umunna". BBC News. Retrieved 19 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  15. "Corrupt Seven MPs"
  16. "The Independent Group". The Independent Group. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  17. Singleton, David (18 February 2019). "Labour's gang of seven: what we know about their moves so far". Total Politics. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  18. "GEMINI A LTD: Company number 11770529". Companies House. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  19. Channel 4 News, 18 February 2019
  20. "Funding blow for breakaway MP group"
  21. "Statement of Independence". The Independent Group. 18 February 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  22. Maguire, Patrick (18 February 2019). "Q&A: Who are the Independent Group and what do they stand for?". The New Statesman. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  23. Bush, Stephen (18 February 2019). "Seven Labour MPs break from party to form Independent Group". The New Statesman. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  24. Murphy, Joe; Cecil, Nicholas; Proctor, Kate (18 February 2019). "The Independent Group: Seven Labour MPs quit party over Jeremy Corbyn's handling of Brexit and anti-Semitism". Evening Standard. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  25. Simons, Ned (18 February 2019). "Labour Split MP Appears To Describe BAME People As Having A 'Funny Tinge'". HuffPost UK. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  26. Evans, Albert (18 February 2019). "Independent Group MP Angela Smith apologises after seeming to describe BAME people as 'funny tinged'". i Newspaper. Retrieved 18 February 2019.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  27. "The really scary thing about Angela Smith's "funny tinge" remark..."
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