Does the new Independent Group really have a future as a new party?

Sienna Rodgers
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Westminster is still fixated on The Independent Group: who will be next to join, could it succeed as a new party, what is its central message. We got a few insights yesterday at the press conference of the “three amigos” – former Conservatives Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry, who struck a remarkably jubilant tone (unlike the seven Labour splitters on Monday).

As usual, Allen bemoaned the impact of austerity, which she voted for. Later, the MP said she only wanted “two or three” more Tory defections, otherwise there would be a general election. Similarly, Soubry confirmed she didn’t want a vote of no confidence in the government to take place. And the Broxtowe MP put a nail in the TIG coffin when she told journalists that the austerity inflicted by her government was “absolutely necessary”. Chris Leslie, meanwhile, revealed to The New Statesman that he is sceptical about cutting the top rate of tax and about scrapping tuition fees. Inspiring stuff.

It’s clear that Soubry’s reasons for quitting her party centre on Brexit and immigration, which hardens the Independent Group as an anti-Brexit force. This pitch for the Remain ground makes some sense electorally, but will surely restrict the group’s size by putting off potential Labour defectors such as John Mann and Ian Austin, who are anti-Corbyn but pro-Brexit. And Soubry’s pro-austerity stance will put off voters. All of this hangs heavy over the group’s future as a new party.

Nonetheless, Momentum has announced plans to hold mass canvassing sessions in the splitters’ seats. Even if no by-elections take place as the MPs refuse to stand down – a decision described by national coordinator Laura Parker as “unfair, undemocratic and dishonest” – a general election could well be on its way. And activists will be providing a public service by making sure constituents know their MP has left Labour to join a coalition with former Tories.

Also preparing to win power, Jeremy Corbyn will meet EU leaders including negotiator Michel Barnier today. He is joined by Labour frontbenchers Keir Starmer, Shami Chakrabarti and Rebecca Long-Bailey. Ahead of the visit, Corbyn said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum, but we do not support the Prime Minister’s damaging approach.” He will presumably try to convince Barnier et al that there is a Commons majority for Labour’s plan, but not for ‘no deal’ nor Theresa May’s deal – which should be easy, as the EU already agrees. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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