More MPs to quit as political parties crumble

New order: The Independent Group posed for a selfie as they took their seats for the first time since defecting.

Theresa May’s cabinet is in open rebellion. Labour and Tory MPs alike have fled their parties for the Independent Group, and up to 20 more could be preparing to quit. What is going on?

The UK’s political parties are falling apart at the seams.

Last week, eight Labour and three Conservative MPs shocked Westminster when they broke away from their parties to form the Independent Group (TIG).

While the Labour defectors attacked Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged failure to deal with Brexit and anti-Semitism, the former Tories said they will not support a government that is “so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP”.

A further 20 MPs are said to be on the brink of quitting.

Now, Theresa May’s cabinet is in open rebellion against her. On Saturday, three ministers including former Home Secretary Amber Rudd said they will disobey May and vote to extend Article 50 this week if a deal with the European Union is not passed imminently.

However, as May flew to an EU summit in Sharm el-Sheik yesterday, she confirmed that MPs will not get to vote again on her deal this week. Instead on Tuesday, with just 31 days until Britain leaves the EU, she will once again ask MPs for more time. The paralysis is likely to deepen the divides in the Tory party.

And Labour is not faring any better. Yesterday, the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said there is “a crisis for the soul of the Labour party” and urged Corbyn to take urgent action to hold Labour together.

“Brexit is straining the fibres that keep our main parties together very profoundly,” said former Cabinet minister John Hutton. “We could be looking at very significant changes in the structure of British politics.”

According to a new survey by Hope Not Hate, more than half of UK voters say the political system is broken. Almost 70% think that none of the main political parties speak for them.

Could TIG offer something different?

Founding member Chuka Umunna claims the group’s creation is the first step towards “leaving the old tribal politics behind”.

Currently, an association of independents rather than a political party, its members say TIG will not be tied down by ideology and will decide how to vote in Parliament on a case-by-case basis.

Is this the future of politics? Do we still need political parties?

Break the system

The struggle between left and right, and remain and leave, within the two main parties shows that the nation’s politics no longer fits into these old-fashioned boxes. Does the system need an overhaul? Do parties encourage tribalism and division? Is there another way?

But don’t we have parties for a reason? Without them, Parliament would be a mess of conflicting views and priorities, in an even worse state of paralysis than we find ourselves now. Indeed, this is TIG’s greatest weakness. Can it offer a coherent alternative for the UK if its members agree only on opposing Brexit and little else?

You Decide

  1. Are political parties too tribal?
  2. Will the Independent Group be a success?

Activities

  1. What words or phrases do you associate with “politicians”? As a class, come up with as many as you can. Are they mostly positive or negative? What does this tell you about how politics is widely viewed?
  2. How do you think Parliament should operate? Should there be political parties, or should MPs vote freely? Should there be a single leader, or several, or none? Or do we already have the best system available? Discuss these questions in an essay.

Some People Say...

“Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.”

Ray Bradbury

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The first MPs to resign and form the Independent Group last Monday were Labour’s Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey. They were joined by Joan Ryan the following day. On Wednesday, three Conservative MPs quit to join TIG: Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston.
What do we not know?
What the consequences of TIG will be. So far, it has succeeded in amplifying and emboldening anti-Brexit voices within both parties. Corbyn is under more pressure to back a second referendum to halt resignations, while some members of the Tory cabinet are now vocally opposing a no-deal Brexit. TIG is not yet a political party, but it seems likely that it will seek to become one as soon as it can.

Word Watch

Anti-Semitism
Corbyn has been widely criticised for failing to crack down on anti-Semitism within the party. Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who joined the Independent Group and has received anti-Semitic abuse, said the party has become “institutionally racist”.
ERG
European Research Group. A right-wing group within the Conservative Party, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who want to pursue a no-deal Brexit.
DUP
Democratic Unionist Party. A socially conservative party from Northern Ireland, where abortion and gay marriage is banned, who support Theresa May’s minority government in important Commons votes.
Amber Rudd
Rudd is now Work and Pensions Minister. Some Tories want Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark to be sacked for threatening to delay Brexit.
Article 50
May triggered Article 50 in March 2017, starting the two-year countdown for the UK to leave the EU. On Wednesday, MPs will vote on an amendment that would call for a law to extend Article 50 and delay Brexit if no deal looks likely.
Ideology
A strict system of beliefs.