The Independent Group

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The Independent Group
SpokespersonChuka Umunna
ConvenerGavin Shuker
Founders
Founded18 February 2019; 33 days ago (2019-02-18)
Split fromLabour Party
Conservative Party
Headquarters3rd Floor
1 Ashley Road
Altrincham
WA14 2DT
House of Commons
11 / 650
House of Lords
0 / 781
Local government (support)
7 / 20,712
Website
theindependent.group

The Independent Group (TIG) is a British pro-EU parliamentary group and political association of Members of Parliament (MPs) founded in February 2019. Its seven founding members resigned from the Labour Party, citing their dissatisfaction with the Labour leadership's approach to Brexit and its handling of allegations of antisemitism in the party. They have since been joined by another MP who resigned from Labour, citing similar reasons, and three MPs who resigned from the Conservative Party, citing their opposition to the party's Brexit policies, a lack of concern within the party for the "most vulnerable in society", and what they see as a right-wing takeover of the Conservatives. All members of the group support a second EU referendum, and the group is considered to be centrist.[1]

The group is not a registered political party, but has indicated it intends to constitute one. It has no single leader though Chuka Umunna is the Group's spokesperson. The Independent Group does not formally have a membership beyond the MPs themselves nor representation in other levels of government of the UK. However, it is supported by several local councillors who have left the Labour Party in support of the group.

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

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. These founding members have been referred to as the "Gang of Seven" by some British commentators, in reference to the Gang of Four who split from the Labour Party to found the Social Democratic Party in 1981.[2][3][4] Four of the number – Berger, Gapes, Shuker and Leslie – were Labour and Co-operative Party MPs: they exited both parties.[5] Announcing the resignations, Berger described Labour as having become "institutionally antisemitic", while Leslie said Labour had been "hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left" and Gapes said he was "furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit".[6][7]

Shuker, Smith and Leslie, as well as Joan Ryan who would join the following day, had recently lost votes of no-confidence brought by their constituency parties,[8][9] while two motions of no-confidence against Berger had been withdrawn.[8]

Umunna rejected the notion of any merger with the Liberal Democrats.[6] On 20 February the Independent Group urged other MPs to join them.[10][11]

Beginnings[edit]

On the day of the group's launch, founding member Angela Smith appeared on the BBC's Politics Live programme, where she said, in a discussion about racism, that: "The recent history of the party I've just left suggested it's not just about being black or a funny tin... you know, a different... from the BAME community". The offending phrase was partially uttered, but was widely reported to be "funny tinge".[12][13] Smith apologised shortly afterwards, saying, "I'm very upset that I misspoke so badly."[12][13][14] Commentators noted an irony given that the group had been formed in response to perceived racism.[15][16]

On 19 February Joan Ryan announced her departure from the Labour Party, becoming the first MP to join after the group's formation.[17][18][19] On 20 February 2019, three Conservative MPs left their party to join the group: Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, and Anna Soubry, citing the handling of Brexit by the Prime Minister (including "red lines" which alienated most Remainers); the party's reliance on the European Research Group (a group supporting a no-deal Brexit) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in passing Brexit-related legislation; what they saw as the takeover of the Conservative Party by "right wing, ... hard-line anti-EU" MPs; and lack of concern from the Conservative Party for the "most vulnerable in society", as reasons for their departure.[20][21]

Local government[edit]

In February 2019, Labour councillors in over ten councils also left the party and intend to align with The Independent Group.[22] Two former Labour councillors in Brighton and Hove Council left the party to form their own independent group on 25 February, aligning with the Parliamentary group.[23] There have been further resignations from the party by Labour councillors in Barnet, Bexley, Derby, Salford, Sheffield and Stafford.[24] With the Independent Group not a registered political party, it is unclear how many councillors support them, but many give the same reasons as the Labour MPs who left the party: alleged antisemitism in Labour, Corbyn's leadership and Brexit.[25]

Reactions[edit]

Labour Party[edit]

On 19 February 2019, 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".[6][26] Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that the Independent Group MPs 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 for their new platform.[6] Scottish Labour Party leader Richard Leonard said that those in the new group were letting the Conservatives "off the hook" for their "failed solutions" to problems he identified as affecting the UK and the world.[27] Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was "deeply distressed" by the split because "What people I care about need", he said, "is a Labour government. One thing that’s going to make that more difficult is Labour splits".[26] Emily Thornberry said the members of the Independent Group wanted the Labour "movement to be distracted and divided".[26] Others stressed reflection, with deputy leader Tom Watson imploring his party to change in order to stave off further defections.[28] Former Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale urged Labour Party leaders to show "tolerance and understanding".[27]

On 19 February, Labour MP Ruth George, who had been asked to respond to a Facebook comment suggesting the group's financial backers were "Israelis", replied that "Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’ of which Luciana was chair is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it, especially when the group’s financial backers are not being revealed". After Jewish groups said that she was indulging an antisemitic conspiracy theory, she apologised and withdrew her comment.[29][30][31]

Later responses[edit]

On 20 February after three former Conservative MPs joined the Group, Labour Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said it was a "new low" for MPs who were once Labour to join together with Conservative MPs, who had been responsible for government cuts.[20]

On 22 February, MP Ian Austin left the Labour Party, saying he had become "ashamed of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn", but did not join The Independent Group.[32][33]

On 25 February, the Labour Party announced that it would back moves for a second EU referendum in the coming weeks. Corbyn said that it was in order to prevent "a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country". The move was interpreted as being, in part, in reaction to the threat of further defections to The Independent Group.[34][35]

On 1 March, former Labour leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the 'courageous' Independent Group MPs, saying he had a 'great deal of sympathy' for them.[36]

On 19 March, MPs passed a motion put forward by Labour to remove Gapes, as well as non-TIG independent Ian Austin, from the seats on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee they held as part of the Labour Party's allocation. They were replaced by Labour MPs Conor McGinn and Catherine West. Gapes called the move "a sad day for the independence of Select Committees", while Labour said that it was right that the party filled its allocation of seats on the committees. It was reported that Chris Leslie would face a similar vote on his International Trade Select Committee seat, but that there were no plans to remove Berger from her seat on the Health Select Committee.[37]

Affiliated trade unions and other groups[edit]

On 19 February 2019, Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Labour-affiliated Unite the Union, said the seven breakaway MPs should call by-elections.[12] He criticised their position as hypocritical as they had been elected on a manifesto to deliver Brexit. 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.[6]

Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum, said he had "personal sympathy" for Berger because of the "hate and abuse" she had suffered. The six other former Labour MPs were, in his opinion, malcontents opposed to Corbyn's leadership.[6]

Conservative Party[edit]

On 20 February 2019, Prime Minister and Conservative leader Theresa May stated that she was "saddened" by the departure of Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen, but added that her party would "always offer... decent, moderate and patriotic politics."[20] Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in a statement on Twitter that he respected but disagreed with the three MPs' decision, as the party needs "strong voices at every level of the party calling for the modern, compassionate Conservatism that saw the Conservative Party return to office."[38] He had earlier sent identical messages to the Tory defectors asking them whether it was "too late to persuade [them] to stay."[39] Pro-Brexit MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that he was "Sad to see them go but the Government must deliver the result of #EU #Referendum," while former education secretary Nicky Morgan wrote that she was "very sorry" to see her "principled and fearless friend" Anna Soubry resign.[40]

Liberal Democrats[edit]

On 18 February 2019, before the breakaway, Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said that his party would "work with them in some form" but that his party would not be "subsumed" by them.[12][41] Following the breakaway, Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said: "This is a damning condemnation of what Labour has become and a compelling positive case for change."[27] On 19 February Cable later added that he has "offered a hand of friendship to the new Independent Group" and sees "the way forward as a collaborative arrangement, a confederation of groups who have a lot in common".[42] On 20 February Cable also suggested that the Liberal Democrats will not put up candidates against members of the Independent Group at future elections.[43] On 21 February former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said in a radio interview that it was "entirely possible" that the two groups could merge to form a new centrist political party.[44]

On 23 February Cable contacted members of The Independent Group to seek support for his proposed parliamentary motion for a second Brexit referendum.[45] The Liberal Democrats signalled support for the amendment, along with the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.[46]

Structure and aims[edit]

The group is not a registered political party with a leader, but rather a group of independent MPs with a convenor (Gavin Shuker),[47] and spokesperson (Chuka Umunna).[48] On 19 February Umunna stated his hope for the group to form a new party by the end of 2019 and it was reported that they are making plans to field parliamentary candidates in case of a snap general election.[49][50] On 5 March, Umunna announced that the group was in talks with the Electoral Commission about becoming a party.[51] In a 7 March interview, Umunna said that the Group intend to launch themselves as a full party by autumn 2019 and to contest every seat at the next general election.[52]

The group, whose slogan 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 stated values include social market economy, freedom of press, environmentalism, devolution, subsidiarity,[53] and their opposition to Brexit.[54] All eleven MPs support a second referendum on the EU.[54] Through the group has not published a manifesto, its members follow a set of eleven "values", the most important of which is the belief that the government must do "whatever it takes" to protect national security, as Britain is "a great country of which people are rightly proud."[55] Shuker has stated that "[we] back well-regulated business but in return we expect them to provide decent, secure and well-paid jobs" and Leslie has stressed that the group is pro-NATO.[54] Moreover, the group has stated it supports a "diverse, mixed social market economy".[56]

Policies[edit]

The Independent Group was established without a formal policy platform.

Umunna published a personal, unofficial series of policies that he believes reflect the values and principles of TIG in order to prompt discussion. These include: prioritising public benefit in utilities, to counter privatisation; tackling excessive pay in the board room; means-testing tuition fees and reintroducing maintenance grants; funding universal childcare by equalising rates of tax on income and dividends; a new tax to fund the NHS in response to an ageing population; a 'Citizen's Service' for school leavers; and state funding for political parties to counter corruption by rich individuals.[57]

On 14 March 2019, Wollaston's amendment calling for a second EU referendum was called by the speaker, the first TIG amendment to be called. This was the first time that parliament had the opportunity to directly vote on a second referendum.[58] However, after both the People's Vote and Best for Britain campaigns advised supporters not to vote for the amendment[59] and the Labour Party whipped its MPs to abstain, the amendment fell 85-334.[60]

Funding[edit]

The new party would not be entitled to parliamentary financial assistance for opposition parties (Short Money) as it is not available to political parties established in the middle of a parliamentary term.[61] The group is supported in its aims by Gemini A Ltd, a non-trading company started by Shuker and registered in England and Wales.[62][63] Berger stated that the seven founders funded the launch themselves.[11][64] On 23 February 2019 David Garrard, previously a major donor to the Labour Party, told The Observer that he had given financial support to the group.[65]

Chuka Umunna has stated that he expects The Independent Group to be held to the same standards as political parties in terms of funding and transparency while not being a formal party.[64] The Group has said it will disclose donations in line with law that governs donations for political parties, i.e. only accepting money from UK donors and naming individuals who give more than £7,500.[66] Shortly after its formation, the group held a meeting with the Electoral Commission to discuss reporting of political donations to the group and its individual MPs.[67]

Members of Parliament[edit]

The MPs in the Group[68]
Name Constituency Former party First elected Joined Portfolios
Chuka Umunna Official portrait of Chuka Umunna crop 2 (cropped).jpg Streatham Labour 6 May 2010 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson of the Independent Group
Gavin Shuker Official portrait of Mr Gavin Shuker crop 2.jpg Luton South Labour Co-op 6 May 2010 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Convener of the Independent Group
Heidi Allen Official portrait of Heidi Allen crop 2.jpg South Cambridgeshire Conservative 7 May 2015 20 February 2019 (2019-02-20) Spokesperson for Welfare and Pensions, Social Care, and Business
Luciana Berger Official portrait of Luciana Berger crop 2.jpg Liverpool Wavertree Labour Co-op 6 May 2010 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Home Affairs, Health, Digital and Culture
Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Official Portrait.jpg Stockport Labour 9 April 1992 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Children and Education
Mike Gapes Official portrait of Mike Gapes crop 2.jpg Ilford South Labour Co-op 9 April 1992 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Defence
Chris Leslie Official portrait of Mr Chris Leslie crop 2.jpg Nottingham East Labour Co-op 1 May 1997 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Economics and Trade
Joan Ryan Official portrait of Joan Ryan crop 2.jpg Enfield North Labour 1 May 1997 19 February 2019 (2019-02-19) Manager of Group Business

Spokesperson for International Development

Angela Smith Angela Christine Smith, Stocksbridge 2009 AB.jpg Penistone and Stocksbridge Labour 5 May 2005 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Transport, Local Government and Housing, Energy and Environment
Anna Soubry Official portrait of Anna Soubry crop 2.jpg Broxtowe Conservative 6 May 2010 20 February 2019 (2019-02-20) Spokesperson for Brexit and Justice
Sarah Wollaston Official portrait of Dr Sarah Wollaston crop 2.jpg Totnes Conservative 6 May 2010 20 February 2019 (2019-02-20) Responsible for new colleagues
Key:      Founding member

See also[edit]

Examples of previous party splits:

References[edit]

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External links[edit]