Nationalisation: a flawed idea, or an economic saving grace?

Nationalisation is often seen as a buzzword. It usually has a weird effect on people that causes them to start rabidly screaming the words “Marxist” at you every time it’s mentioned. With the Labour Manifesto in the public domain, this phenomenon is becoming more and more common. However, if you’re going to make such a comparison, at least give the Communist Manifesto a read first. The Labour party has pledged to re-nationalise industries such as the Royal Mail, British Energy, as well as Broadband services. Whether the policies put forward by Jeremy Corbyn are plausible or not isn’t the point of discussion, I’m more interested in establishing how or if nationalism fits into the modern-day.

Firstly, it must be established that nationalisation is not actually that radical. Corbyn’s manifesto has been called “Radical” by the BBC and even members of the Labour Party, but the actual policy of nationalisation isn’t as extreme at all. America has utilised nationalisation in various industries, and their Government the exact opposite of socialist. Nearly nine out of ten people in the United States receive their water service from a publicly owned utility and in the last 20 years. Since then, nationalisation of the water industry has only expanded. From 2007 to 2014, the portion of people with water from publicly owned water suppliers increased from 83% to 87%. France’s mass nationalisation of its energy industry in the 1980s, Germany’s re-nationalisation of the Print Office in 2008 after it was privatised in 2001, and Iceland’s re-nationalisation of its largest commercial banks in 2008, shows that it isn’t some outlandish or outdated idea. 

This isn’t necessarily a socialist idea, it’s simply economically liberal. What is then done with nationalised industries is what takes it a step further. Even the services stated above are only a partially nationalised industry, as the state does not have a 100% market share and neither does it legally obstruct private companies from entering the industry. The common question asked is, why on earth would the government want to do this? Simple, it’s because we can’t trust the market completely to operate fairly, and when it crashes, the market won’t protect the public.

In some industries – take water for example – it just makes more sense to have fewer entities providing the service because of the infrastructure involved. The economically savvy readers will recognise this as a natural monopoly. It’s even been used to pull banks and other private entities out of trouble. This is done by temporarily buying them to ensure they don’t collapse and cause damage to the economy as a whole. A good example was when the US government took over GM Motors. When the problem is resolved, the government simply sells the company afterwards. In the case of nationalising industry, it allows the consumer to get a cheaper or even free service whilst the government tanks the cost but runs the companies, they are purchased at a profit which can then go back into your pocket.

Some of you will be reading this and think “Why don’t we just do this for everything? Cheap Nationalised Broadband? Sounds great”. Don’t jump the gun. It’s not something to be taken lightly and isn’t always a good idea. When nationalising an industry, the assumption is the government will actually be good at running the businesses in that industry. You can very easily argue that the British Government, in combination with local government, just isn’t good at it.

To paint a picture, I’m going to use the Labour party promise to provide a state-run fibre broadband service across the country. I am a huge PC gamer nerd. I play mostly League of Legends and Counter-Strike, but anyone who plays video games regularly can unite and agree upon a common enemy, bad ping. Lag spikes are actually the worst, and usually, we all have little tricks we use to try and deal with them, but if they don’t work, we are comforted by the fact that we can just switch broadband providers or upgrade our service. If Broadband is nationalised, you might not be able to do that, leaving you with bad ping and poor gaming experience. 

The state wants to purchase broadband relevant parts of BT, but the BT group also owns Plusnet and EE which have their own broadband services. If only the state broadband service is available in the area you live in, and that service just isn’t good enough, you would have to move to get to a different service provider, because currently there are only 5 providers for commercial usage, and 3 of them (BT, Plusnet and EE) could end up under the state service. To make it even worse, Openreach (a BT Subsidiary) maintains the fibre networks that the other broadband services sell, so if a state broadband service was to exist, the government would either need control of that as well or sub-contract it to Openreach. Even with all those complications, it doesn’t even touch on the fact that everyone who currently works for those companies now becomes state employees, and that’s a whole different fiasco.

Although nationalisation isn’t a ‘pipe dream’ like some would call it. The belief that magically buying all these industries will solve itself is certainly naïve. As I have displayed by briefly exploring the result of the nationalisation of just one service, this is not a straightforward process by any means. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the nationalisation plans of the Labour Party as a whole is risky and would require a restructuring of the economy specifically in the area of taxation. This would be a slow and gradual process that would take around 10 years. This doesn’t just apply to the Labour Party’s plan, it applies the nationalisation as an idea. 10 years is two governments, maybe three, governments. Who says our economic situation doesn’t change? Who says halfway through the project it’s no longer economically viable and the whole thing gets put on hold?

Nationalisation isn’t the Marxist evil that many claim it to be, but it isn’t necessarily the undeniable saving grace of the British population that it is being peddled as either.

Canterbury: the gritty electoral battleground in the Tory heartlands

The resignation of Tim Walker – Canterbury’s Liberal Democrat candidate for the 2019 general election – is just the tip of the iceberg of the complex political battle current raging in this historical city in the heart of the garden of England.

Canterbury voted in favour of remaining in the European Union in 2016. Over 60% of Canterbury’s population voted not to leave the EU and both of it’s Universities, including the University of Kent that boasts the moniker of being the UK’s ‘European university’, openly support remaining in the Union.

While this would appear to be an advantage to Rosie Duffield, who has always vocally supported remaining in the Union, her own party’s neutral position over Brexit could cost her votes. While Tim Walker has stepped down in Canterbury, the Liberal Democrats have told Channel 4 that they still plan to run a candidate in Canterbury, potentially leeching support from the Labour MP. They have  chosen an ex-councilor to run called Claire Malcolmson. Vote shares for Canterbury predict the Liberal Democrats to gain 23% of the City’s vote, giving the Conservatives a comfortable lead of 6% on Labour. However, if just 30% of Canterbury’s remain population voted ‘tactically’ – voting irrespective of party line and focusing on a candidate’s Brexit stance – then the scales could be tipped in favour of a Labour win.

However, understanding the difficult position Rosie Duffield is currently in requires context on Canterbury as a constituency, and what makes Canterbury such a difficult city to predict in the 2019 election.

Before 2017, most election polls predicted a comfortable win for the Conservatives, making Canterbury a certain ‘safe’ seat; one that has been held by a Conservative for almost it’s entire 100-year existence. In 2017, the Tory frontman Sir Julian Brazier was looking to shore up his considerable majority in the city – a majority he had held his entire 25-year career as an MP. In 2015, Sir Brazier won by a 42% majority, beating his nearest competitor by over 9000 votes.  

The Tories were confident, given the constituencies location in the heart of Kent, they were further reassured when Brazier’s opponent was announced: an ex-teaching assistant with no prior Parliamentary experience, Rosie Duffield. Duffield’s prior popularity in the Labour Party was scarce. Her political experience was limited to an unsuccessful run for the council in 2015, as well as her work as a political satire writer.

Labour’s gains in the 2017 election surprised pundits across the political spectrum, and Canterbury was no different. With a majority of just 187 votes, Rosie Duffield beat the incumbent Julien Brazier to become Canterbury’s MP. After conceding defeat, Mr Brazier blamed Canterbury’s invigorated student population for the shock win.

On a national scale, the student vote appeared to factor heavily into Labour’s success, with reports estimating that almost 90% of the student population eligible to vote registered in the election, with a further 55% of students backing Jeremy Corbyn’s Party.

Since 2017, Rosie Duffield has cemented her place in Labour Party politics, becoming the Secretary to the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and serving on several Parliamentary committees. In 2018, Duffield demonstrated her commitment to staying in the European Union by being one of 6 frontbench MPs to resist a Labour whip to abstain from voting to remain in the EU single market after Brexit, precipitating her exit from the shadow cabinet.

In late 2019, she made further headlines after a speech on her experiences surviving and overcoming domestic abuse during a hearing on Theresa May’s domestic violence bill – a speech which moved the Commons to tears.

Duffield also took a very vocal stance on antisemitism in the party, admitting to reporters in 2018 that Labour did have a ‘problem’ with antisemitism, leading to condemnation from Canterbury Council’s Labour chairman. Ms Duffield has shored up her meteoric rise in leftwing politics and in just two years has made herself into one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.

But her competition this year will be difficult.

Sir Brazier’s favourite was elected his successor to become Canterbury’s Conservative candidate – a veteran of local politics, Anna Firth. Firth is an ex-barrister, Councilor, and ran for the European Parliament in 2017. The avowed Brexiteer gained local infamy in October when she shared a video with Boris Johnson, promising a new hospital was being created in Canterbury, a hospital that, it was later revealed, did not even appear in the government’s plans. Firth’s highly pro-Brexit stance has led to a deep affinity with Boris Johnson and other hardline Conservative Brexiteers – an affinity which may resonate with voters in the traditional Tory heartlands.

Canterbury will serve as an important litmus test for the 2019 general election, with all of the major frontrunning parties fielding hopeful MPs. Whether Canterbury remain supporters are willing to put party allegiance aside and vote strategically to stop Firth’s election, however, is beyond prediction.

Protecting Pride- history of Pride and the straight community

Every year in June, LGBTQ+ people around the world celebrate pride month, either publicly or privately. What also happens this time of year is that debates start to arise as to how pride events should be run and how inclusive they should be. To thoughtfully discuss the involvement of uniformed police and heterosexual participation we must first revisit the history of Pride.

Organised Pride events have been around in various forms since the 1950s. Their aim was not so much about celebration but education, with the Annual Reminders organised in Philadelphia alerting people to the fact that LGBT people did not have protection from human rights offences. These simple picketing events are far from the glitter and rainbow parades that are now associated with Pride.

Pride as we know it was established on the 1st anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. These riots were a turning point in Queer history, with LGBTQ+ people rising up against the police targeting gay bars in Manhattan, of which included the Stonewall Inn. Despite being seen as an iconic moment for gay rights, the Stonewall riots were led by Trans women of colour such as Marsha P Johnson and a lot of the police actions were directed at devaluing trans identities by stripping them of feminine clothing before arrest. Riots started when patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused to comply and pay off the police, which was usual procedure. Instead they resisted, and violence between police and the LGBT people of Manhattan continued for three days. These riots gave birth to the Gay Liberation Front and the LGBT pride movement as a whole.

It is because of the Stonewall riots that June is designated as Pride month with the Stonewall Anniversary being June 25th. 

The first pride parade was organised by Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes and took place on the 28th of June 1970. The first pride followed 2 years later on July 1st 1972.

Since then pride marches have spread around the world and have become a celebration of everything queer, a massive party and a political movement.

There are two main discussions surrounding pride in the 21st Century.  The first concerns the clothing of police officers at the event. Despite hostility to police in general, they are essential in organising Pride events; pride is a safe space and needs to maintain safety and police are essential to that process. However, the visual presences of police officers in uniform is a big issue for many queer people attending these events. These very uniforms were a symbol of fear a mere 50 years ago. For some, this fear is best described as hostility, but for many this isn’t the case. The hostility and fear is aimed at the uniform; the symbol of an institution that historically has been on the wrong side of LGBTQ+ rights. Police themselves are seen by many as just people, many of whom are LGBTQ+ themselves, and the majority of pride goers have nothing against the individuals and the protection they provide. It is for this reason that many LGBTQ+ activist groups call for police presence at pride to be out of uniform.

Police presence is the simplest of issues which says a lot with the level of extensive debate that surrounds it. Probably the largest debate about pride is whether straight people can go. In a dream world everyone should be accepted at Pride, it should be used more as a celebration rather than a protest. However, this isn’t the case. Most Pride movements, even in the West, are still important protest movements and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people. With the life expectancy of Trans women of colour being around 31, there is still a need for safety and celebration of queer people which, for many, justifies a minimal straight presence at pride. Whilst this is understandable, the rejection of straight people at pride is very flawed, mainly for practical reasons. Firstly, pride contains a lot of bisexual and pansexual people who go to pride, these people should feel more than welcome to bring their partners. If a blanket ban on straight people is implemented at pride where some people want it to many bi and pan people in relationships with member of the opposite sex will feel oppressed and minimised in a safe space specifically for them and other queer people. On a less practical level, if pride is a space for progress and fighting for LGBTQ+ acceptance then the case can be made that straight people taking part in pride is essential in the normalisation of non-straight and cis identities. Whether straight people should be at pride is a very complex question and one that this article does not have the time to fully investigate but it must be made clear that pride is not just another festival. It is not just another excuse for glitter and half nakedness.

Pride is amazing for these reasons but its also amazing for its political history and the progress it has helped create, and if straight people treat it as a mere party, then it loses it’s power.

History And The Resilience Of The Cooperative Model

The first cooperative in Italy was established in 1854 in Turin, as part of a wave of liberal reformism. As the movement grew, it split into two branches: the socialist branch that was stronger in the North and more focused on worker and consumer cooperatives, and the Catholic branch that was stronger in the South and more focused on agricultural and financial cooperatives. The movement grew to play a vital role in the Italian economy. For example, in 1919 the biggest port in the country was operated as a worker owned cooperative.Cooperatives, especially those of the socialist tradition, faced suppression by the Fascist regime and were deemed as cesspools of opposition activities. People were imprisoned, properties were destroyed, and central organizations were put under strict control of the dictatorship. 

After the war, cooperatives grew gradually alongside an economic boom that lasted until the 1970s. However, as the rest of the economy started to slow down, cooperatives continued their growth. The share of employment in cooperatives has more than tripled since the 1970s, reaching around 7% in 2018. The model, sometimes branded as old fashioned and suitable mostly for agriculture, turned out to be superior in adapting to the modern economy. 

Below are three facts that demonstrate the resilience of the cooperative business model in Italy:

Social Cooperatives

In the 1980s Italy saw two new type of cooperatives emerge; ones that provided social, health and educational services and ones that created jobs for disadvantaged people, so-called work integration social cooperatives. These two types of so called ‘social cooperatives’ were given a legal framework in 1991. The following decade saw this sector boom, with a five-fold increase in the number of people employed in social cooperatives, reaching 149,000 people in 2001. 

With the aging population and the growing share of employment in the care sector, Italy is spearheading what might be one of the most revolutionary transformations in the labour market – giving ownership of the care providers democratically to those receiving and giving the care. The technological advancement is a trend that makes it harder to employ disabled and low-skilled workers, which is also a question these cooperatives are addressing with great success. Below are two facts about the sector, one for both types of the social cooperatives:

Worker owned cooperatives

Italy has over 25,000 worker owned cooperatives, more than any other country in the world. To put this into perspective, the US only has 650, although the population is more than 5 times that of Italy’s. Two facts below show some of the social benefits that these sort of businesses have, as well as an example of what kind of legislation Italy has in place to support the sector.

Retail cooperatives

The largest retailer in Italy is a cooperative, simply called ‘Coop’. It has been at the forefront of ethical retailing, becoming the first European company to adopt the S A8000 Standard which is the only international standard valid for all sectors that can be certified by an external entity and ensures the ethical behaviour of companies and of the production chain towards workers. It was also the first Italian retailer to introduce FairTrade products. 

Below is an example of a project it has supported to help post-conflict areas in other countries:

Emilio Romagno – The world capital of worker owned cooperatives

Emilio Romagno is an area in Northern Italy that has one of the highest median income in all of Italy and it also ranks on top in various indicators of social well-being. The region also has the highest propensity to export in the country. 

The region also has perhaps the highest ‘social capital’ (a term that refers to intensity of interpersonal relationships, trust, cooperation and reciprocity) in the developed world, according to Robert Putnam, who has coined the term and is the leading researcher on the subject. This was measured by surveys that explored, for example, how often people take part in volunteering activities and how well they know their neighbours.
Around 30% of the GDP of the area is produced by worker cooperatives, making it the most worker cooperative based economy of its size in the world.

The Future

The movement is coming full circle, as its socialist and catholic traditions are gradually joining together.

Only the imagination sets limits to the opportunities of the future, and one of the most brilliant platform cooperatives, FairBnB coop is based in Emilio Romagno. It is a cooperative alternative to Air BnB that seeks to become co-owned by the hosts and guests. Instead of taking a commission that goes to the shareholders, the cooperative will donate to local projects of the members’ choice, such as public gardens or historical conservation. It is a straightforward example of a vision we at Coop Exchange embrace – a sharing economy where the ownership is shared. Air BnB faces opposition by the residents of areas that are very popular on the platform, but a cooperative alternative that would contribute to the betterment of the local area would surely be welcomed more positively. Whereas Air BnB enters an area and operates there until pressure from the public forces politicians to regulate it, Fair BnB will seek to help the public and contribute, not extract, value from the communities it operates in. We warmly recommend everyone to enlist their interest in the cooperative on their website

Emilio Romagno has the potential to become the centre of a great transformation of the start up culture towards crowdfunded, user-owned platform cooperatives. It has the potential to not only be the driving force of lifting Italy out of its economic problems, but also become the center of a distinct European tech sector that can rival that of China and the US.

The Government has put our education system on the line, and our children deserve better

Since 2015, £2.8 billion has been cut from school budgets according to a National Education Union sponsored campaign. All Hallows Catholic College in Macclesfield will have seen a loss of over £278,492 between 2015 and 2020, as well as a per-pupil loss of £275. In East Cheshire alone, there will be a total loss of £10.9 million in real terms for our schools. But according to Theresa May, there is ‘record levels of spending’ in our education system.

In principle, this is correct. Schools get money based on how many pupils they have and as such, with a higher number of pupils than ever, schools supposedly get more money. However, to peddle this line would be to imply that our schools are in a state of prosperity. The reality of the situation is however, very different.

Regardless of whether you’re on the Left or the Right we all have a duty to our youth. Young people are the future. So for schools to have to write emails and letters to parents saying that they can’t afford pens or toilet paper, you should probably realise there’s serious issues. Ministers are, to be frank, in complete denial. While they continue the typical Tory tradition of spouting the party line at every opportunity, they are in turn legitimising the breakdown of our schooling system. Education secretary Damian Hinds was this week criticised by Headteachers for refusing to meet with them to discuss the state of the system due to Tory austerity. If the Secretary of State for Education is too scared to meet people in the actual system, then it’s clear that even the government know that they’ve failed our children.

An open letter by Head Teachers claimed that since 2010, their budgets had seen an 8% reduction in real terms. Schools are making drastic cutbacks, with some schools closing early or even axing under-subscribed subjects. Class sizes have reached unacceptable levels as a direct result of funding cuts. For example, Kevin Courtney, the joint General Secretary of the NEU, has taught a maths class of 37 pupils. How can we expect our pupils to learn in these conditions? Pupils need individual support, but in classes of this size, they won’t get it.

And as such, this lack of individualised support can contribute to stress and anxiety amongst children who struggle academically as they will feel as though they can’t succeed without support. Pastoral Care has also seen reductions, no longer being seen as an essential part of schooling. This is, in turn, leading to more pressure on teachers and year-learning leaders to make up for the lack of pastoral leaders by focusing on pupil’s emotional state as well as academic state.

We’ve effectively become a one-issue nation thanks to the Tory Government’s horrendous handling of Brexit. This has allowed the Conservatives to effectively brush their callous cuts to education under the carpet. Sadly, they’re getting away with it too often.

We are currently in the midst of another national crisis in the form of Knife Crime. The Tories have cut 21,000 police officers and this has, of course, led to a spike in knife crime amongst youths. But for me, cuts to education and youth services have played a key role in this rise in violent knife crime as well. Children who aren’t so academically successful are being forced out of mainstream education in order to raise a school’s achievement. It is allegedly these children that are most likely to carry a knife for example. Schools should not only be used to educate children academically, but also protect and safeguard them, while also teaching them valuable morals and values. While schools can’t stop knife crime among youths, they can play a key part in preventing some cases.

But while they are underfunded, schools cannot afford this. In fact, many of them are resorting to desperate measures to raise money. Some are holding fundraising days while others are setting up crowd-funding pages online. One of the first duties of the government is to adequately fund our institutions. If schools are resorting to practically begging parents to make up the gap between their budget and their funding cuts, then it’s clear that the government is failing in its duty.

Teachers are leaving the system in their droves now, and that’s not because they don’t care or because they’re bad at their jobs. It’s because they simply cannot cope with the stress of an underfunded system coupled with increasing workloads. It’s not just children that the government are failing, it’s the teachers as well. To put it simply, it is not good enough.

Education is so important for shaping the country we want. We are meant to have one of the best systems in the world, but it’s clear now that it’s spiralled out of control. We need to fix it as a matter of priority. With ministers being in denial, it’s become blindingly obvious that the people who know the most about the system are those who are actually in it. We need to listen to teachers and headteachers now more than ever. While throwing more money at the problem isn’t always the solution, it would certainly be a good start…

 

A few stubborn and isolated MPs, or a future political party? What could The Independent Group become?

The landscape of British Politics took a massive turn when seven Labour MPs decided to resign their party whip and start up their own party group in the Commons called The Independent Group. Their main reasons for leaving were; antisemitism, toxicity and entryism within the Labour Party alongside their opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s acceptance of Brexit as an inevitability. Other reasons likely include their different economic and social views, with most of these MPs being from the political centre of the party.

The next day, these seven ex-Labour MPs were joined by three Conservative MPs, with similar albeit different reasons for defecting. These reasons being; isolation from the party leadership over Brexit, toxicity of the party due to entryism and being held ransom by the European Research Group (ERG- a group of right-wing Tories) and the Vote Leave campaign. They were also joined on that day by another ex-Labour MP, totalling them now at 11: the same number of MPs as the Liberal Democrats.

They all left for similar reasons, but do they actually have similar political views?

As The Independent Group regularly says: they are neither an official party (yet) nor contesting elections. Therefore they do not yet have a manifesto or any concrete policies- which is logical because they aren’t an established party- although it does play into the ‘centrists don’t actually have any policies’ myth. So far though, we can see a few rough themes forming which could plant the basis of a future political party.

The movement is quite clearly pro-EU in all of its forms, from accepting EU regulations and environmental standards to accepting free movement of people. The only solid policy we can see that all of The Independent Group’s MPs support is a People’s Vote, with the goal of remaining in the EU. The group tends to favour multiculturalism and traditional feminism which could manifest itself into policies in the future.

Although some accepted that austerity was necessary during the recession whilst some don’t, they have a general consensus that they don’t want more austerity, as shown by ex-Conservative Heidi Allen admitting that the Tories have “deepened suffering” when they could have reduced it. Chuka summed up his view saying that the “circumstances of your birth [shouldn’t] dictate your future”. He has also said that they are “leaving old, tribal politics behind” and many, when asked about policy, have used words such as “evidence” and “expert[s]”, overall suggesting that when it comes to policy formulation, they will look at what policy works, is popular and overall benefits the most people, rather than what a party or certain ideology dictates.

This is further supported by Heidi Allen’s comments, that they will determine their support for policies “not in a right-left way…but [based off of] what’s actually going to work”. It seems so far that what they have in common would form the backbone of any future political party which they might evolve into: pro-EU, pro-migration, multicultural, compassionate, transparent and fiscally responsible.

What does the future of this group look like?

The MPs have have been subtly threatening their old parties that if they don’t change, more resignations could follow. This has been humoured more seriously by Tory MPs it seems than Labour ones, although it would be expected (based off the current defection numbers) that more Labour MPs are likely to join. From the Tories though, there are moderate MPs that feel isolated from the party due to its Brexit stance and internal toxicity. Soubry says that she received “smiles” and “waves” upon entering the Commons chamber and sitting on the opposition benches. She also admitted to receiving “lovely texts” from her former-colleagues.

Three likely defectors are Justine Greening, Dr Phillip Lee and Dominic Grieve; all threatening to leave the Conservative Party if they end up accepting no deal from the EU. Lee says that he “can’t guarantee” that he’ll stay and that there would be a “stampede” of MPs leaving the party if the government was to go ahead with a no-deal Brexit. Another moderate, Nicky Morgan, however has recently written an article on why moderates should stay in the party and fight rather than flee, which sounds very similar to what Ruth Smeeth has written, albeit for the Labour party. The Labour Party seems to have divided into four different takes on the split. Looking at these four different takes is a good way of differentiating between those who plan on keeping everything the same, those who seek to amend their errors and those that plan on leaving.

Take 1: tends to be a grassroots approach, seen a lot on Twitter from people with Twitter handles including JC4PM (Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister) and GTTO (Get The Tories Out). This take denies that there is an antisemitism problem within the party overall and takes the form of retweeting the likes of Galloway and Hatton. Take 2: this tends to be the more genuine Corbynite approach which is to acknowledge the problem, mentioning it and then taking no solid action on it. This is seen mainly in the Tweets, interviews and videos by Corbyn and his leadership team/close allies such as John McDonnell. Take 3: this is not just from the moderate MPs determined to fix their party, but from a wide range of Labour MPs: this take acknowledges that there is a problem and that they need to take firm action on it as soon as possible, an example of this is Tom Watson’s video statement and Barry Gardiner’s contribution to the antisemitism debate in the House of Commons. Take 4: threatening to leave the party if nothing changes, removing connections to the Labour Party on social media and retweeting/defending The Independent Group.

Very few, if any, of Labour’s current MPs have done the latter (threatened to leave in the same way as Greening, Lee and Grieve in the Conservative Party), but a few have been jumping to the defence of The Independent Group. Not many MPs fall into the Take 1 category. A few, mainly shadow cabinet, fall into Take 2. A majority fall into Take 3, even hard-core moderates and good friends of the defected MPs have doubled down on their support for the Labour Party and a dedication to right the wrongs from within. Moderates such as Alison Mcgovern, Tulip Siddiq (who said “I’m Labour to the core”), Peter Kyle, Neil Coyle, Dan Jarvis, Stephen Kinnock (saying “my dedication to my party is unconditional, my dedication to the leadership is conditional”) and John Mann all look like they are staying in the party. Hilary Benn hasn’t said much recently and Ben Bradshaw, although urging colleagues not to defect, says that the party is on the brink of being destroyed and that more MPs could break away. Owen Smith (who contested Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership back in 2016) said that he “might quit” back on the 7th of February, so he would probably be the bookies’ most likely to go next: but the general consensus is that there are more to come.

So is it just a group of disgruntled MPs or a future political party?

The Independent Group have put an emphasis on the fact that they desire to grow into a political party, saying how they want to be more than a group MPs in a committee room. They have already received thousands of small donations. However, the future for them is uncertain. The average majority for the group is 16,114 which is safe but contestable, especially if they are dropping their old party label, which can have a massive effect in places like Liverpool and Streatham.

Moreover, as shown earlier, a few of them are in leave-supporting areas and some have very slim majorities – such as Soubry and Smith. However, they seem to be doing well on the diversity front. Two-thirds of their MPs so far are women, which is the largest ever for any parliamentary party (discounting the Greens which naturally, with 1 MP, have 100% women). They have a decent mix (for their modest size) of minority representation in Berger and Umunna.

What is impressive though is their geographical diversity. Although they have no MPs from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, they do have commendable English diversity. From Liverpool, to Manchester, to Sheffield, to Nottingham to Cambridgeshire, to North London, to South London all the way down to Devon. English geographical diversity is not the only (usually overlooked) asset this group has: it also has a good diversity of opinion.

The main difference between the ex-Labour and ex-Conservative MPs are their varying views concerning Blair’s government compared to the coalition government. The ex-Labour MPs see Blair’s economic model as ideal (more government spending on public services through taxation) whereas the ex-Conservative MPs see the coalition’s economic policies as sound (less spending on public services and less taxation). However, it is this kind of difference in opinion, yet similar worldview, that they hope will form their party’s manifesto in the future. They seem to align on issues that they see as common sense: social policy such as civil rights, LGBT rights (with the historical exception of Shuker), feminism and multiculturalism but they disagree on issues that they see as less-contentious, such as economics, and therefore seem to have this smiley-harmony that no other group in the Commons possesses (other than maybe the Lib Dems who, like The Independent Group, have an advantage on the unity-front due to their modest size).

 

The Independent Group are definitely an interesting project and could provide the political shakeup that this Brexit stalemate needs. Don’t discount the power that small parties with 10 or more MPs can have in toppling or supporting governments. There have already been rumours about The Independent Group offering the Conservatives a majority through a confidence and supply agreement in exchange for a People’s Vote. These 11 MPs, along with the 11 Lib Dem MPs, could have a disproportionately large impact on the outcome of Brexit.

Wollaston has described them as a “third way” which is a phrase that has been used to describe Blair’s centrist agenda, although Umunna has made clear that they are “not the old tunes of the past” and he even rejected Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” as he sees it as an out of date prescription. Heidi Allen summed up their movement best. She puts forward a vision for a party of confidence, collaboration and expert analysis with an emphasis on care, compassion and fairness. She says she wants it to be a party of the best minds, biggest hearts and made up of effective communicators.

There has been speculation about who would lead this party but Umunna showed the radical nature of this group when, in his Channel 4 interview, he said that they don’t want the “soap opera” and “hierarchy” of the normal political parties, although acknowledging that “you need a leadership team” and that he wants to “play the biggest role possible”. This project is very risky and in the current political climate, it could either prosper massively or flounder awfully. With Brexit hurtling towards us, if it is to go ahead, with or without a People’s Vote, then it is hard to see what the future of this party would be; if we leave anyway then they become pointless and if we remain then surely they become unnecessary – that is, at least, if they fail to reach out and become a broader political movement.

Overall, this is a highly ambitious political project and despite one’s political views one can acknowledge that it takes bravery to start said project at such a crucial time, especially for people that have been such long-standing members to their previous parties- and in some cases even governments. These MPs have most likely thrown their careers under the bus (mainly due to how our current electoral system works) because they have seen the potential to change the country for the better in a way that the two main parties have neglected for decades. The odds are stacked against them, but as Heidi Allen said; “We might fail, but isn’t the prize worth fighting for?”