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21st February 2019

The Independent Group: A naive return to a rejected politics

George Walker argues ‘The Independent Group’ represents a backwards step for progressive politics and the electoral fight against the failing Conservative party, a by-election should be called immediately.
The Independent Group: A naive return to a rejected politics
Photo: Sophie Brown @ Wikkimedia Commons

On Monday seven Labour MPs resigned from the parliamentary Labour Party in protest of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on key issues such as Brexit and the anti-Semitism scandal.

These members are: Chuka Umunna, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker, and Ann Coffey. They have not yet formed a party but will sit in parliament as the ‘Independent Group’ of MPs.

They have made extraordinarily scathing claims on the Labour Party as one that is “institutionally racist” and “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”.

Such claims draw shock and awe, and they perhaps make supporters of the Labour party question the integrity of their party as one that champions anti-racism and progressive values.

Let me be clear: the issue of anti-Semitism is not something to be taken lightly, and in light of the Chakrabarti report I fully respect the will of members such as Luciana Berger to resign over the pockets of anti-Semitism in the party. Pockets which must be taken with adamant sincerity by the leadership of the party. However, the official statements made by the members of the Independent Group by no means tell the full story.

For example, you’d be forgiven for making light of Mike Gapes’s comments about the “institutional racism” of the Labour Party given that on the same day the Independent Group was announced, Angela Smith described some BAME people as having a “funny tinge”.

Furthermore, there has been controversy over whether the Independent Group should allow ex-Labour MPs Ivan Lewis and John Woodcock, who have been accused of sexual harassment, into their new party.  

There is also controversy surrounding the structure of the group. Its donation policy says that they’re not a political party but a company established to support independent MPs, therefore they don’t have to abide by official rules on revealing those who have funded the group.

Given that they’re not an official party there’s also no complaints procedure or “party” definition of racism, therefore Angela Smith’s comments cannot be officially critically challenged and therefore reprimanded. Evidence suggests that the Independent Group has a long way to go before it can call itself a decisively progressive force for a new brand of politics.

They represent a brand of politics that has been rejected across Europe: bland boardroom europhilic centre-ground politics. Politics where no-one knows where they stand except on the faces of real progress.

The Independent Group seems to think that they embody a spiritual renewal of politics of the 1990s: that “moderation” of Blair, before the economic crash, which is still wholly viable for sorting society’s problems.

In reality the group offers no palpable radical solutions to the huge problems of economic inequality and poverty in British society today, they instead serve the interests of the tabloid press, the hard Brexit bandwagon and the Conservative Party.

If their leaving represents a real twang of courage and integrity they ought to call by-elections, stand on their own policy platform; whatever that actually is. Give their constituents the opportunity to have a Labour MP as they voted for in the first place.

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