If you could summarise Britain’s two main political parties pithily you could perhaps say that the Conservatives are nasty but smart while Labour is stupid but well-meaning. The Tories have survived as long as they have because of a ruthless determination to get what they want, a streak which has caused them to dump some of their most successful leaders as soon as they became a liability. Labour’s long support for social justice and the defence of the welfare state has been undermined by its penchant for poor decision-making. Harsh though it is to say, it didn’t dump leaders such as Kinnock, Brown, and Miliband until it was too late.
As a result, chatter about a new centrist party emerging from the left has been met with a mixture of mocking and dread. The very idea that terribly decent and moderate centrists could be as bold as to break away from what by international standards is an equally moderate labour movement was pretty laughable. And who would vote for a Tony Blair tribute act? The neo-liberal leaders who gave us capitalist welfare states are so apparently out of step that it would be futile even to try it.
That is why the formation of The Independent Group is so remarkable. Despite the rather dull title, the seven ex-Labour MPs showed the excited press that they meant business with their comprehensive denunciation of the Labour leadership. Of the different speeches made, Luciana Berger’s was the most impressive, and the most moving. Only a fool could spout accusations of opportunism at a woman who has spent years shielding herself from a torrent of abuse – abuse that will continue and probably grow – because she had the misfortune of being a Jew in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Opportunists… attention-seekers… splitters! The Corbyn leadership has reacted about as well as the far left has done historically to those who question the greatness of their leadership. We need look no further than the Twitter timeline of Owen Jones, who himself ‘broke off’ with journalism some years ago to devote more of his life to Corbyn. It was filled with a succession of cheap jibes about The Independent Group’s website, which crashed due to the sheer volume of interest. Not a good look, Jonesy.
The fact is that Corbyn's leadership has compromised any right it has to pontificate about poverty, inequality, and the NHS with its failure to act honestly about Brexit, which if it happens will make all of these problems worse. They have lied as wilfully as the Tories have about a 'Brexit' dividend and have made clear time after time that they'd rather advance their own party interests with a general election than save the country from a disaster, all out of a deeply-held belief that EU membership is a barrier to a socialist, sun-lit utopia. Throw in a leadership cult worthy of Stalin and a racist ideology shared with the Nazis and you begin to wonder who the real traitors are - those who stay in a party that would damage Britain if it came to power, or those who say they are done.
The creation of the new group raises many questions. Should they resign their seats and fight by-elections on their new platforms, or would possible losses kill any 'momentum' they had before they got off the ground? And how will they vote when they take their seats in the Commons? Will they make the partisan mistake of walking into the lobbies with the Tories just to spite their former colleagues?
Also questionable is whether the group has any chance of survival in such a cut-throat political world. Their numbers are small, their funding is limited, and their parent party of Labour is just as interested as the Conservatives in keeping the old two-party system entrenched. What many believed were game-changing days with Brexit have quickly been forgotten. Just getting on the news once a week will be an achievement in itself.
A new approach to politics, as Chuka Umunna has called for, is all well and good, but The Independent Group may need to be even better at the old game than Labour are if they are to advance their cause. Remaining high and mighty with their sterile branding and above the daily squabbles at Westminster may not necessarily be a wise route to take.
Yet I am at a loss to remember the last time the British left acted so courageously, against such impeccable odds. All who care about a decent and liberal country should support The Independent Group as soon as they get their servers working.