Politics

Who are the Independent Group and what do they stand for?


Seven MPs have announced that they are leaving the Labour Party to form a splinter group owing to serious concerns over Brexit, anti-Semitism and the direction of the party under Jeremy Corbyn.

The newly formed Independent Group (IG), which consists of Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey, will sit together and vote as a bloc within the House of Commons.

“We believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country,” the group – which is not yet a formal political party – said in a statement.

“Each of us has dedicated decades to the progressive values that were once held true by Labour, values which have since been abandoned by today’s Labour Party.”

So what does this new bloc stand for? Here are the highlights of its first mission statement:

Middle ground

In a swipe at the alleged hard-left takeover of the Labour Party, the IG says it will pursue “policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology” – although they have yet to share any specific policies.

In fact, “the group is primarily defined by what it is against: Jeremy Corbyn’s economic and foreign policy stances”, says the New Statesman.

In particular, the group claims the Labour party in its current form is “hostile to businesses” and “threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”.

The party throws its weight behind a “diverse, mixed social market economy”, which supports both private enterprise and social responsibility.

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The IG also appears to distance itself from a class-based view of society, in favour of a centrist worldview which values both equality of opportunity and personal responsibility as a means to improve social mobility.

Speaking this morning, Umunna claimed that the Labour leadership “constantly pit one part of society against another because to them the world divides between oppressor and oppressed”, adding that “in truth the modern world is more complicated than this”.

However, on many issues the group shares common ground with Labour, with commitments to protecting the environment, defending the NHS and other public services, and decentralising power to local authorities.

A broad church

A central theme to the IG’s mission statement is diversity of opinion and tolerance of dissenting views.

“Visceral hatreds of other people, views and opinions are commonplace in and around the Labour Party,” the group claims, adding that every member of the new bloc will be guaranteed a “right to be heard”.

Labour’s pro-Corbyn faction has repeatedly been accused of ignoring, drowning out and even actively persecuting moderate MPs, including campaigns to target centrists for deselection.

In a statement explaining his decision to leave Labour, former shadow chancellor Leslie said the party has been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”, while Stockport MP Coffey lamented that Labour was “no longer a broad church”.

Patriotic opposition

The opening line of the IG’s mission statement appears to lay out the party as a patriotic alternative to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

Corbyn and his close cohorts have faced intense scrutiny over their perceived hostility to the military and police, as well as past associations with groups considered terrorist organisations, such as Hamas and the IRA.

Last year, the Daily Mail claimed Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott had “devoted their lives to befriending the enemies of Britain while undermining the very institutions that keep us safe in our beds”.

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In contrast, the IG statement opens with the words: “Ours is a great country of which people are rightly proud”, and continues by vowing to safeguard national security and strengthen Britain’s ties with its international allies.

So could the IG prove a genuine rival to Labour? “There’s a long way to go” before we know whether the new group – which currently has no leader and is still to have its first formal meeting – is electorally viable”, says political commentator Iain Dale.

However, “given the launch of The Brexit Party… It’s perfectly possible to imagine a situation where we have five parties competing for votes soon, each with a double-figure poll rating”.



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