Don’t Expect The Independent Group To Rescue Britain’s Broken Politics

Antichrist - end of the world

Chuka Umunna? Former choirboy, but most definitely not the Messiah…

In my limited spare time since commencing law school, I have been attending a wonderful Bible study group for graduate students, organized by the university’s Catholic Student Center. Having plodded our way methodically through the New Testament, last week we reached the Book of Revelation and alighted on the topic of the Antichrist – antichrists being false prophets preaching a deceptive gospel, and also a specific figure cloaked in seeming holiness and authority, whose arrival would presage the second coming of Christ.

In other, totally unrelated news, British politics seems to have been roiled in my absence by the defection of eight Labour and three Conservative MPs from their respective parties to form a flashy new association called The Independent Group. In selecting a spokesperson for their group, the breakaway MPs nominated Chuka Umunna, the ex-Labour politician best known for describing himself as Britain’s Barack Obama. As we shall see, this was a revealing choice – elevating a man who models himself on the US president who promised hope and change, delivered the former in spades back in 2008 but so little of the latter by 2016 that the people elected Donald Trump as his successor.

The cast list of TIGgers (yes, they actually call themselves that) on the ex-Labour side is a veritable who’s who of frustrated New Labourite centrists whose slick career ambitions have been put into stasis since Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party and wholesale rejection of the Blairite/Brownite technocratic tendency (though some credit must be given to MPs such as Luciana Berger, who also had cause to flee the appalling, metastasizing antisemitism within Corbyn’s hard left faction). On the ex-Tory side, we have the likes of Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry, politicians whom one would never have guessed to be conservative in the first place but for the fact that they campaigned wearing a blue rosette during general election season.

The TIGgers had a number of justifications for their decision to leave their former parties (though notably, none had the courage to call a by-election and allow their constituents to positively affirm their presence in Parliament under a new party affiliation). Those coming from the Labour Party repeatedly stressed the antisemitism continually exhibited by those close to Jeremy Corbyn and tolerated by the Labour leadership, though their claims that it was the deciding factor fail the credibility test since antisemitism on the hard left and ultra-progressive wings of the Labour Party is hardly a new and surprising issue. More telling is ex-Labour Mike Gapes’ bitter complaint that “the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit” – the idea that the Labour Party might support a policy popular among the party’s traditional voter base being too much for him to comprehend. Meanwhile, ex-Tory MPs like Anna Soubry complained about prime minister Theresa May’s dogged approach to Brexit and what they called the party’s reliance on the Hard Brexit fundamentalist ERG group of MPs and a takeover of the party by “right-wing, hard line anti-EU” forces.

All of this was covered portentously and near-reverentially by a Westminster journalistic class who tend to jump at any opportunity to breathlessly report on personalities instead of policy (the details of Brexit still eluding many of them) and which is near-uniformly progressive in socio-economic ideology and stridently anti-Brexit in particular. Thus we were treated to gushing hot takes by the likes of ex-PM Tony Blair (“embrace the spirit of insurgency!“), a Guardian journalist overcome with admiration as these courageous rebels dined at Nando’s, The Scotsman (which swats away inconvenient observations such as the fact that “they have no vision, coherent policy platform or leader”) and readers of the hateful EU propaganda rag The New European, who are desperate for the TIGgers not to subject themselves to by-elections and the indignity of seeking democratic approval of their party betrayal.

Naturally, all of this praise has gone to the TIGgers’ heads, and what started as an act of pure political calculation has now become in their minds an almost heroic declaration of political independence and bold purpose. Hence self-aggrandizing pronouncements such as this:

Heidi Allen thinks that “the two big parties [are] demonstrating more and more every day that they are not up to the challenges facing our country”. This is the same Heidi Allen who campaigned under the Conservative Party banner without a whisper of complaint in 2015 and 2017, maneuvering hard to get that coveted initial constituency selection in the first place.

And here is The Independent Group’s London branch, acting as though it is an oasis of reason in a desert of conformist thinking:

You would think that a brand new political party – a group whose ranks are filled with MPs who had the supposed “courage” to quit their parties and risk the wrath of their constituents because of their overriding concern about the country’s direction – would be positively fizzing with alternative policy ideas and solutions to the national problems they quietly tracked for so long before making their big move. You would be wrong.

But that’s fine. Maybe TIG is understandably reticent to commit themselves by announcing headline policies at this early stage, while they are still trying to woo other potential defectors and grow in strength. We should, though, still be able to parse a sense of what this radical new party stands for by analyzing the famous speeches and policy initiatives of its star members, right? “Oh, Bob? He’s the one who wants to create a network of community colleges to retrain people whose old careers are under threat from globalization and automation.” “Rachel? Isn’t she the one who called for a national Apollo Program for education, criticizing Britain for shooting for the middle with education outcomes and exhorting us to catch up with world leaders like South Korea and Finland?” “Rupert has a great plan for constitutional reform to bring government closer to the people and make leaders more accountable”. “Ayesha actually had the courage to reject calls for her to post a public love-letter to the NHS on Valentine’s Day, saying that we need to stop deifying the healthcare service and look to other countries for examples of best practice”.

Again, tumbleweeds. The British political firmament as a whole is hardly blessed with a multitude of bold, original thinkers, and such figures certainly aren’t among the fabulous seven, the daring eleven or whatever number of forgettable non-entities currently comprise The Independent Group.

All of which is a great pity. As this blog has noted over and over and over and over and over and  over again, Britain has entered a period of political discontinuity – a time when the existing political settlement, with its narrow range of policy options, are no longer adequate to the challenges at hand. Such periods of discontinuity require politicians to think the previously unthinkable in terms of policy solutions, not to flee their former political parties in an outrage that people are actually starting to do so.

As described in the influential Stepping Stones report:

In normal times a majority is enough. The task of government is to steer a basically healthy socio-economic system past hazards which are primarily external, while ensuring that the system’s fabric is maintained and making improvements to it here and there.

But once the system itself starts to show signs of fatigue, instability, disintegration, then we start to talk of discontinuity. In discontinuity, solutions can only be found by breaking constraints which we had assumed were unbreakable. It is not enough to settle for policies which cannot save us, on the grounds that they are the only ones which are politically possible or administratively convenient.

So what is The Independent Group’s grand unified theory for fixing Britain? Besides thwarting Brexit, they don’t have one. But they did roll out their very first policy initiative with tremendous fanfare:

Today we launched a petition calling for an end to the Government’s four-year freeze on working age benefits. Ending the freeze on working age benefits would lift 200,000 people – who are working, but struggling to make ends meet – out of poverty.

We believe that all policy should be evidence-based, especially when that policy affects some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

There’s no reason to persist with the final year of the freeze, especially when the past three years significantly exceeded the savings originally envisaged.

Is this the best that the courageous breakaway radical thinkers of British politics can do -a feel-good policy about relaxing benefit freezes? As part of a broader overhaul of welfare policy, this may indeed be a valid and “evidence-based” approach. But The Independent Group have not conducted any such broader review of the welfare system; they simply cherry-picked the low-hanging policy fruit designed to appeal to middle income swing voters, without any consideration of the knock-on effects on public finances, incentives to work or anything else. There’s certainly no bold leadership here, no telling difficult truths to the public about necessary trade-offs in public spending.

Indeed, The Independent Group will not be able to formulate meaningful policy on any number of issues, welfare included, being comprised of defector MPs from opposite parties with different views on the subject. If the party is to survive for any length of time, it would have to strike a balance between the ex-Labour and ex-Tory factions, and would likely produce policies almost identical to any government or opposition which sought to woo the same swing voters by meeting them where they are (rather than doing the much harder – but necessary – job of convincing them that they, too, need to update their thinking about what is both desirable and politically feasible).

Contra Heidi Allen’s complaint that the two main parties are “not up to the challenges facing our country”, The Independent Group exists precisely because the two main parties were captured by forces which seek to overturn the “old established politics” – Labour by the Corbynites with their faith in 1970s-style, red-blooded socialism and the Tories by the ultra free trade zealots of the ERG (though on non-Brexit matters, the Tory Party remains as uninspiringly centrist and authoritarian as it ever was – a fact which Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston should have valued, given the fact that they emblemize that sentiment within the party). The two big parties may not yet be responding to this period of discontinuity the right way, but both are shifting their thinking. It is The Independent Group who seek to stand athwart history, yelling “stop!”.

These are not People of Action, bristling at the stultifying ideological confines of their former parties. Rather, they are Captains of Inaction, career machine politicians who thrived on the Old Politics – that comforting bygone era when New Labour would be nanny statist and indulge centre-left interventionist tendencies as the Tories accused them of socialism on steroids, while the Tories would be ever so slightly less nanny statist and interventionist as Labour screamed that they were a libertarian Ayn Rand dystopian outfit made flesh.

However much they may strut and preen, the TIGger MPs are not frustrated free thinkers yearning to push the boundaries of the Overton Window in British politics or advocate for daring new solutions to the problems we face in the early 21st century – they are establishment refugees seeking a lifeboat to take them back to the New Labour, centrist consensus of the 1990s and 2000s. The root of their discontent is not the fact that British politics has become stale and conformist – their anger stems from the fact that the two main political parties have reacted to voter dissatisfaction by moving in direction which reduces their own personal influence (and/or hopes of future high office).

Pete North, welcoming what he sees as the death of centrism, puts it better than me:

Progressivism (whatever that actually means) has become a byword for sanitised cellophane wrapped politics which produces the androgynous clones like Chuka Umunna designed for maximum media inoffensiveness. Like Ken dolls one wonders if these people even possess genitalia. The political version of morning TV magazine show presenters. And as repellent as they are, these people don’t actually know anything.

This much has been made abundantly clear during the course of Brexit. They have no idea why we voted to leave, and no idea how we got where we are, or indeed how to get ourselves out of it. Instead of seeking to understand what is upon us, they have invested all of their energies into sweeping Brexit under the carpet with a view to going back to their consequence free normality where they soak up media attention but take on none of the responsibilities and obligations.

It is telling that the new Independent Group have elected to promote themselves on a handful of recycled populist slogans. They speak of a “different way of doing things” under the “ChangePolitics” hashtag, with all the self-awareness of a diarrhetic hippo. Chris Leslie in all seriousness went on BBC Question Time to tell us “The big political parties want to keep everything as it is” when this bunch are the very essence of the establishment – the rotting corpse of centrism.

Frustration with Britain’s dysfunctional politics is quite understandable, and the growing realization that something has broken beyond repair is encouraging to witness. But to see in the cast of The Independent Group anything resembling salvation from our problems is to put one’s faith in a false prophet.

The politicians who made headlines by flouncing out of their respective political parties aren’t preaching a bold new gospel which the country can get behind. They aren’t currently preaching a message of any kind at all, beyond a furious opposition to Brexit and the inchoate yearning for a return to the time when uttering bland platitudes about Tory heartlessness or Labour profligacy was all it took to sustain one’s political career. If anything, these are avowedly Old Testament politicians, furious with incomprehension that their message no longer resonates in New Testament Britain.

As a general rule of life, it it looks too good to be true, it probably is. The Independent Group doesn’t even manage to look good on cursory examination, but even if one finds oneself falling for their polished Twitter hashtags about changing politics, the point remains that given the rather pitiful raw material at their disposal, The Independent Group’s promise of political renewal is indeed too good to be true – no matter how strongly one wishes that Chuka Umunna and his unlikely gang were the real deal.

 

Antichrist

The Independent Group

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A Chuka Umunna Leadership Bid Now Would Destroy The Labour Party

Chuka Umunna Labour Party Champagne Socialist 2

The current Labour Party will not transition seamlessly from Jeremy Corbyn to Chuka Umunna, and any leadership coup proposing an Umunna-like replacement for Corbyn will make the Republican Party presidential primary look like a model of restraint and civility

Clearly the EU referendum and upcoming Budget are not providing enough excitement for Fraser Nelson, because he is also busy agitating for an immediate (and almost certainly ill-fated) coup to depose Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of the Labour Party and replace him with exactly the kind of person who the Labour grassroots detest with every fibre of their souls.

Yes, that would be Chuka Umunna:

It’s the Ides of March today, and there are pitifully few signs of a Labour plot. I was on ITV’s The Agenda last night with Chuka Umunna, one of the putative successors to Jeremy Corbyn, who was teased by Tom Bradby about his ambitions. He came out with the usual hedged denials (“there’s not a vacancy.,, I’ve said I would never say never”) but then came out with the rationale for ousting Corbyn.

The problem: most Labour members were not members this time last year. The party has been taken over by Corbynistas and while Labour MPs could technically change the leadership it’s harder to change the membership. Chuka agreed- but then gave the democratic case for deposing Corbyn, in defiance of the wishes of party members.

“Clearly, Jeremy has a very strong support amongst our membership. But then if you look at the parliamentary Labour party they have a direct mandate from 9.3m Labour voters. If you look at the research on things like Trident the parliamentary party would be closer to the views of the voters than the members and there’s that tension.”

So how to resolve the tension? I do hope the Labour moderates come up with a way soon, and bring this sorry pantomime to a close. PS At the end of The Agenda, guests are invited to present a fantasy front page. Mine was intended to give some encouragement to the Labour moderates.

Fraser Nelson’s pitch for a Chuka Umunna leadership bid consisted of this rather unlikely picture:

My views on Chuka remain unchanged until new evidence (of the non-hagiographic kind) prompt me to revise them:

Just what the Labour Party needs. Another dazed and confused London career politician stumbling shell-shocked and bewildered beyond the M25 in a belated effort to understand why so many working and middle class people – Britain’s strivers – spurned his party at the general election, totally unconvinced by a Labour manifesto and message conceived in Islington but barely embraced even in Hampstead.

At a time when David Cameron is building an inclusive Tory cabinet which conspicuously harnesses the talents of women and MPs from working class backgrounds, for Labour to respond by crowning a well-moneyed, metropolitan, UKIP-hating elitist such as Umunna would only serve to confirm everyone’s worst suspicions about the party.

And those suspicions are that the modern, virtue-signalling, style-over-substance Labour Party would rather dwindle to an angry, self-righteous, ideologically pure talking shop for the London dinner party set than do the hard work of rebuilding in order to actually help the people it claims to represent; that it lacks the wisdom to recall its ideological roots or the humility to reach out to its scorned party base.

The notion that the Labour Party as it is presently constituted could go from being led by Jeremy Corbyn to the stewardship of someone like Chuka Umunna without about three transitional leaders to ease the way is absolute fantasy. While New Labour centrists and wistful media types may wish it were otherwise, the Blairite Labour Party is in a state where it cannot simply be rejuvenated with a click of the fingers and a telegenic new leader.

At this point, even managing to replace Corbyn with somebody like Ed Miliband (himself considered unpalatably left wing by much of the country) would be a major achievement, and even that is highly unlikely. The fact that Dan Hodges – the columnist whose finger is closest to the pulse of Labour Party plots – thinks that the party’s current greatest hope is Angela Eagle, of all people, shows just how far the ground has shifted to the Left under Labour.

Fraser Nelson was hopefully just making a lighthearted joke when he suggested that Chuka Umunna succeed Jeremy Corbyn after a leadership coup which would be sure to enrage over half of the party’s membership. Because to even attempt to go from Jeremy Corbyn to Chuka Umunna in one step would precipitate such a period of rancour and infighting that it would make the Republican Party’s rage at its ongoing takeover by Donald Trump look like the model of civility and restraint.

 

Chuka Umunna - Labour Party Leadership Bid - General Election 2015

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The Daily Smackdown: Europhiles Cry About The “Brexit Bullies”

BSE - Britain Stronger in Europe - Crybabies

It is laughable for Britain Stronger in Europe to claim that the Prime Minister and the Confederation of British Industry were “threatened” by two teenage hecklers

The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign group sent this victimhood-wallowing missive to their supporters today:

We always knew UKIP and the Leave campaigns would try and pull the wool over people’s eyes – we didn’t know they’d try and threaten them.

But this week the Head of Vote Leave tweeted: “You think this is nasty you ain’t seen nuthin yet (sic).” Classy, hey?

It’s clear what type of campaign they’re going to run, Samuel – they can’t win the argument so they’re going to try to silence anyone who disagrees with them. We can’t let them win.

Sounds like something serious happened, right? Wrong.

The “threat” that so upset BSE was a couple of young Vote Leave activists who stood up in the middle of a speech the Prime Minister was giving to the CBI and started shouting “CBI, voice of Brussels!” over and over again.

While it’s a documented fact that the CBI grossly misrepresented a survey of their membership to falsely claim that a majority of British firms back staying in the EU, these two first-time hecklers were hardly political heavies sent to intimidate the opposition. In fact, they were pretty poor even by modern dumbed-down heckling standards – the prime minister came off looking simultaneously wittier and more serious by the time the Vote Leave duo were escorted from the hall.

Watch this video of the encounter, and judge for yourself who comes across as calmer and more intelligent:

Hilariously, BSE are now parading the incident to their supporters as evidence of some dastardly eurosceptic plot to threaten all those sweet, innocent europhiles.

And now failed Labour leadership candidate Chuka Umunna is getting in on the act too, writing in the Telegraph:

Rather than seeking to promote debate, however, the leave campaigns are now desperately trying to shut it down and muzzle those who take a different view. They are behaving like gangsters, trying to close down the debate with behaviour that has no place in public life.

In their repeated attacks on the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), trying to force the organisation’s hand and sit out of this debate, Vote Leave’s is making a concerted attempt to stifle the views of some of the country’s largest businesses. Protests outside the CBI conference, disrupting speeches, aggressive letters – these bully boy tactics are a sign they are losing the argument rather than embracing it.

Well excuse me, but I can’t find a violin small enough to play in mournful solidarity with the mighty CBI, let alone the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – who has the bully pulpit of his high office and the entire machinery of government with which to campaign against Brexit. It is frankly ludicrous to suggest that eurosceptics possess the official, financial or physical muscle to drown out the europhile message in the way that BSE pretend.

But what we lack in a bully pulpit, we eurosceptics more than compensate for by the simple virtue of being right. Right on the facts, and on the right side of history, too.

The pro-EU campaigns will inevitably get away with a lot of lies and distortions during this referendum campaign, simply because it will not be possible for us Brexiteers to refute each and every single one of them. But one thing that BSE and other europhile campaigns absolutely must not be allowed to get away with is successfully portraying themselves as the plucky underdog, fighting an uphill struggle against the mighty forces of euroscepticism.

I don’t think that there is currently a great chance of that happening, but we should take care to slap down any attempts to portray the pro-EU juggernaut as some kind of rough-and-ready insurgency. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But I do hope that someone remembers Chuka Umunna’s impassioned defence of the CBI – and how he came out swinging in support of downtrodden multinational corporations in their battle to be heard over the little guy – the next time he runs for the Labour leadership.

EU Democracy - Brexit

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Labour Leadership Contest 2015: Highlights And Lowlights

Labour Party - Labour Leadership - 2015

Voting has now closed in the Labour leadership election, with the result due to be announced on Saturday. Time to look back on a contest which has vindicated Semi-Partisan Politics’ call for a rejection of bland, consensual political centrism

As voting closes in the Labour Party’s leadership contest, it is interesting to look back on a time in the recent past when Jeremy Corbyn was an unknown backbencher – and maybe also point out that this blog was one of the first among the punditry to realise the significance of Corbyn’s candidacy and the effect it could have on our politics.

In that spirit, here is a summary of how Semi-Partisan Politics has covered the battle for Labour’s soul, from the dark days immediately after 7 May through to the Jeremy Corbyn insurgency, and everything in between.

Enjoy!

9 May: Where did it all go wrong?

Why Isn’t Labour Working?

Until the exit poll came in, it was simply inconceivable to many on the left that there could be any result other than a rainbow coalition of Britain’s left wing parties, coming together to lock the Evil Tories out of Downing Street and immediately get to work cancelling austerity and providing everyone with material abundance through the generosity of the magic money tree.

Labour lost the 2015 general election because they increasingly stand for nothing, having gradually lost touch with the party’s roots and founding principles – and because they created a two-dimensional caricature of their right wing opponents (stupid, selfish, mean-spirited and xenophobic) and campaigned against this straw man, essentially shaming Conservatives and UKIP supporters to keep quiet about their beliefs.

12 May: Please, God, not Chuka Umunna

Anyone But Chuka

Just what the Labour Party needs. Another dazed and confused London career politician stumbling shell-shocked and bewildered beyond the M25 in a belated effort to understand why so many working and middle class people – Britain’s strivers – spurned his party at the general election, totally unconvinced by a Labour manifesto and message conceived in Islington but barely embraced even in Hampstead.

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Labour Party Leadership Contest: Anyone But Chuka

 

If the Labour Party choose former Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna to be their new leader, they will make perfectly clear that they have no intention of learning the lessons from their defeat, and they will fully deserve another electoral humiliation in 2020.

It really is that simple. Chuka Umunna is not necessarily a bad person – in many ways he was one of the few truly competent performers and articulate voices in Ed Miliband’s team of losers – but the mere act of his installation as the successor to Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan and Kinnock would be enough to permanently alienate many of the voters who spurned Labour this May.

This blog has watched for years as the Labour Party gave up any pretence of offering Britain a real, coherent ideological alternative, and instead became a moralising, virtue-signalling talking shop, run by and on behalf of their London-based, upper middle class clerisy.

They may still regurgitate the language of standing up for the working man, the poor and the vulnerable – when they are in public. But behind closed doors their love of the EU, heavy handed regulation, bloated public services and open door immigration with no effort to up-skill the domestic workforce to compete made quite clear that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party was very much in it for selfish reasons.

Take Chuka Umunna’s leadership announcement video, posted to YouTube today. Delivering his remarks from Swindon, where the Tories increased their majorities in both local constituencies, Umunna said:

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