The Independent Group — what do they believe?

An analysis of the new UK political ‘party’ and their ‘statement of independence’

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In the past week we’ve seen the launch of a new company — called The Independent Group, it is made of a rough collection of right-wing Labour and a weird mix of Tory MPs. The company doesn’t produce anything, doesn’t sell anything, and appears to have only one officer, Gavin Shuker MP. Its registered address is above a Wetherspoon’s pub in Altrincham.

This claims to be the beginning of a new political party, but unlike a properly registered political party, a private company does not have to publish where its money is coming from.

The ‘party’ seems to have two overriding goals — to stop the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn from gaining power, and to somehow force another EU referendum on the country.

They claim they want to change politics, yet the only thing that seems to unite the ex-Labour MPs is that practically all of them had suffered votes of no confidence and threats of de-selection from their constituency parties. Some say the jumped before they were pushed. The erstwhile leader, Chuka Umunna, recently lost a vote in his constituency to shift the power to one member one vote, a move seen by many as the first stage to local party voting to oust him.

As yet they have no policies, but on their website they do have what has been titled their ‘Statement of Independence’. This, combined with their voting histories and statements to the media are all we have to go on for the time being as to what ideology drives and unites this new group.

The first thing about their ideology is that it claims not to be one. It says that policy will be governed by research, and that they will show tolerance and build consensus. Below I have taken each of their statements in order to see if we can glean their political standpoint and priorities.

· Ours is a great country of which people are rightly proud… defence… national security. Nationalist militarism? Defence and military spending in the name of nationalism as their number one priority.

· Diverse, mixed social market economy — private enterprise to reward aspiration — government has the responsibility of stewardship of taxpayer’s money. Second priority — privatisation, with entrepreneurship as the ideal? This is reminiscent of one of Thatcher’s policies — the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

· A strong economy means we can invest in public services — placing individuals at the heart of decision-making. So public borrowing is out, the NHS will be funded only from a strong economy — and these services will be run by individuals?

· The people of this country can create more prosperous communities — fostering individual freedom and supporting families. The first inkling that there is no social or government responsibility, but down to the individual and devolved ‘small government’. Put this together with the emphasis on families, and we have a line that could have been lifted from a Tea Party leaflet.

· The barriers of poverty, prejudice and discrimination facing individuals should be removed and advancement occur on the basis of merit, with inequalities reduced through the extension of opportunity… Again the emphasis on the individual, as if the situation that the poor and oppressed find themselves in is somehow their own doing. The phrase ‘advancement… on the basis of merit’ seems to hearken back to the idea of ‘the deserving poor’. And even the deserving poor will not be given aid, but ‘an extension of opportunity’. This evokes the quote from Dr. King: “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

· Individuals are capable of taking responsibility if opportunities are offered to them, everybody can and should make a contribution to society and that contribution should be recognised. Note the emphasis on individuals. This second point serves only to add weight to the one above it. Individual responsibility with society having, and owing, none.

· Our free media, the rule of law, and our open, tolerant and respectful democratic society should be cherished and renewed. To be honest, not sure what this is proposing. Is it saying that nothing needs to be reformed in our media — post Chilcott, post Leveson, nothing about our media needs to change? Is it acknowledging the institutional racism revealed by the Lawrence inquiry, Windrush and Grenfell, or not?

· We believe that our parliamentary democracy in which our elected representatives deliberate, decide and provide leadership, held accountable by their whole electorate is the best system of representing the views of the British people. These seems totally at odds with the fact that not one of these MPs acknowledges that they were elected (in the case of the Labour defectors, with massively increased majorities) because of the manifestos and Leaders that they claimed to support, or based on the contributions in money, hard work and spare time of constituency party activists.

· In order to face the challenges and opportunities presented by globalisation, migration and technological advances, we believe the multilateral, international rules-based order must be strengthened and reformed. We believe in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence, security and counter-terrorism. Note that this does notsupport Remain explicitly — or what the reform would entail.

· As part of the global community we have a responsibility to future generations to protect our environment, safeguard the planet, plan development sustainably and to act on the urgency of climate change. Though it mentions the urgency of climate change, this is tenth (out of eleven) in their list of priorities.

· Power should be devolved to the most appropriate level, trusting and involving local communities. More powers and representation should be given to local government to act in the best interests of their communities.

In the last on the list, we come back to the principle of small government. Things to note in this statement:

· The emphasis of individual responsibility and small government

· The contributory principle and free enterprise

· Defence and interventionism indicating a trend to nationalist militarism

· Minimal mention of education, nothing about transport or utilities

· An indication that private enterprise takes precedence, being the principle driver of the economy and further, the sole provider for funding social services and the NHS

What we have then is very far from a so-called centrist or moderate party, but something on the right of the LibDems, in more than one instance going beyond Blairism all the way back to Thatcher for inspiration. Perhaps it would be good for us to remember that Thatcher herself would be on the left of the current Tory party, as they continue to enact policies that she would have never considered or believed that she could get away with even if she had — and the current Labour Party far from being far left is only very far removed from the policies supported by previous Labour governments.

This new company, if it ever does become a political party, is nothing to do with current politics and ever further away from the future, but solidly based in a conservative past.

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