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Will the new Independent Group bring a real change to British politics?

PUBLISHED: 15:46 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 20:09 20 February 2019

Will the new Independent group change British politics? Picture:  Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Will the new Independent group change British politics? Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The defection of three Conservatives to the new Independent Group of MPs reinforces the view that British politics is in an unstable place at present - but will it change things in the long term?

Dr Dan Poulter was sorry to see his colleagues leave the Tory party. Picture: LIBRARYDr Dan Poulter was sorry to see his colleagues leave the Tory party. Picture: LIBRARY

The chances of a major shift in British politics as a result of the defections look fairly remote – although they could force the two big parties to look at the way they are operating and ultimately offer something more attractive to voters.

There has been a feeling over recent years that both the Conservative and Labour Parties have become more dominated by their extreme wings. And of course, both party leaderships are generally seen as wanting to facilitate some form of Brexit (although both would deny their vision for the future was in any way similar).

These two factors have driven this week’s defections.

Brexit is THE political issue of the moment, and when you hear Anna Soubry and Chukka Umunna interviewed on the subject it has always been difficult to believe they’re not on the same side. Well they are now!

But it is the deeper cultural changes in their parties that have driven the MPs to take this action now.

Many Labour parties across the country have been taken over by Momentum-inspired members whose views are too extreme for MPs who see it as their job to represent everyone in their constituency, whoever they voted for. Anti-Semitism and the perceived failure of the leadership to act against it is also a factor here.

The Conservative defectors are worried about an influx of “purple extremists” – former UKIP members who have joined the party and are trying to purge anyone who doesn’t support a no-deal Brexit or follow hard-line social policies.

A key line in their statement was: ““Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it.”

It will be very difficult for any of the defectors to hold their seats at the next general election. Very few SDP defectors hung on in 1983 and The Independent Group is not another SDP.

But the arrival of the SDP did force remaining moderates in Labour to fight back. It took 15 years, but by 1997 the party was a moderate election-winning machine again.

The Tories did eventually turn away from the extreme policies of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard’s leaderships to become a winning party again.

What is interesting today is that both main parties appear to be in the grip of their more extreme voices simultaneously. Will this inspire frustrated voters to back an alternative group?

Some certainly will – but probably not in enough numbers to win individual seats at the next general election. The Independents’ main hope must be that their fight is taken up by others in their former parties to try to steer them away from extreme policies.

The only thing we can really predict about the future of British politics is that it’s very unpredictable!

Suffolk MPs’ sadness at their colleagues departure

Both Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter and South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge were sorry to see the departure of their three colleagues from the party.

Dr Poulter has worked closely with Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston on health and social issues.

However he has no plans to follow their lead, although he comes from the same “One Nation” wing that they are from.

Ms Soubry and Dr Wollaston have both been threatened with deselection processes – and Dr Poulter said many MPs from across the country felt their local associations had been infiltrated by former UKIP members.

He said: “I know some colleagues have felt under pressure. In Suffolk we haven’t seen much of this, but in other parts of the country it is a real battle.

“I was very sorry to see them going. It was Brexit that proved the sticking point for them and I have a different view on that – I think it is important to respect the result of the referendum.”

Mr Cartlidge said: “I am sorry to see them go – they have brought a great deal of experience of the outside world to parliament and it is important to recognise that.”

He said the fact that a group of Independent MPs had now been formed was significant – but it was important for political parties to recognise the value of people with outside experience who could bring that to their work in the House of Commons.

“We can’t say ‘we want people with outside experience in the House’ and then complain if people with an independent mind are elected. I am sorry they felt unable to stay in the Conservative Party.”

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