If there was any doubt regarding the ideological loyalties of the new Independent Group, recent Tory defector Heidi Allen’s confirmation that given the option her party would back Theresa May in any vote of confidence to avoid facilitating a general election concludes that debate. Not only does this comment betray an acknowledgement of the microscopic electoral demand for the politics represented by the new party, it also confirms what we could already have guessed about the Independent Group. This is not a party driven by a desire for change or a sense of loyalty to any sort of membership or grassroots movement, and as a result the group of 11 ‘centrist’ MPs will exist purely as a means of preserving an established socio-economic model which, over the last decade, has been proven entirely unworkable and redundant.
The developments of the Labour split over the past week have produced mixed feelings personally. On the one hand, I’m disappointed that several members of the country’s only electorally viable progressive force are so steadfastly committed to regressive politics, and so willing to strengthen the Conservatives’ suffocating grip on the country at such a crucial epoch in its history. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel incredibly relieved that this set of MPs, completely bereft of ideas or policies, are no longer using the party of working people to promote their own outdated agendas.
Rightfully there has been outrage on the left that Labour defectors will not contest their parliamentary seats in immediate by-elections, but equally this is something we can take hope from. The Independent Group has not registered as a political party, presumably in order to avoid having to register donors and thus demonstrate the elitism and wealth inherent to the organization. If MPs belonging to a group with sizeable financial backing, the momentum created by a new identity and a supposedly distinct set of ideological values isn’t confident enough to defend the seats they already hold in by-elections, what does that say about this group’s long-term viability?
One of the key reasons given for this schism is the issue of antisemitism, which evidently is a huge concern within a small minority of the Labour party, which must be tackled robustly. While Jewish MP Luciana Berger’s feelings of alienation following a torrent of horrific anti-Semitic abuse are of course understandable, yhe issue has become little more than a convenient excuse for some within the defecting group. With reality being demonstrated perfectly within hours of the Independent Group forming, as Angela Smith was filmed live on the BBC describing BME people as ‘a funny tinge’ while gesturing at fellow panellist Ash Sarkar. Smith later apologized for her comment, however her explanation that it was an error of speech following ‘six hours of press engagement’ was a poor excuse for this troubling racist language, especially considering that the panel took place only two hours after the defectors first press announcement. The Independent Group’s failure to offer an adequate response to Smith’s comment highlights the total insincerity of their opposition to racism on the left. Suggesting that the new party’s fundamental objection to Corbyn’s Labour centres on its hugely popular policies of nationalisation, investment in communities and redistribution of wealth.
Anyone unfortunate enough to be subjected to the utter drivel expelled by Heidi Allen and Luciana Berger on Andrew Marr’s most recent Sunday broadcast will have a broad idea of what the new alliance stands for: nothing. Posed with a selection of incredibly basic questions regarding the Independent Group’s position on taxation, nationalisation and tuition fees, the only response was a string of waffle centred around a vague notion of ‘doing things differently’ and ‘listening to the country’. However, I can’t help but feel if this group was really driven by a desire to listen to the country, perhaps its founding members would have remained in the Labour party and implemented the transformative policies they were elected to in the 2017 election that inspired millions. Clearly, listening to the country only really applies if for some reason you believe the country to be as madly obsessed with a blatantly uninspiring and unpopular brand of neoliberalism as the Independent Group appear to be.
Words, Fred Garrett-Stanley – @fred_gs