A damp squib of a press conference displays a group struggling for charisma, coherence and identity...
As of yesterday morning, seven MPs have officially resigned the whip and quit the Labour Party. They are now “independent”, apparently. Their names, if you don’t know already: Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith…and the other two.
It doesn’t really matter, to quote David Lindsay on Twitter:
People you've never heard of leave party they were never really in. #LabourSplit— David Lindsay (@davidaslindsay) February 18, 2019
And so our 7 brave little soldiers head off into the unknown. The Seven Samurai. Ronin, the Japanese might say. Warriors without masters, if you’re in the mood to be flatteringly poetic.
Chickens without heads if you’re being a little more honest.
It’s not gone terribly well so far.
For one thing, the announcement was NOT of the long-awaited [name-to-be-announced] party. There is no party. They have no policies except Brexit is bad and no ideology except Corbyn is worse. There is no leader. No manifesto. No direction.
They are the “independent group”, that is all. A not-at-all catchy name for a sordid collection of also-rans and never-weres. A line up that looks more like a staff photo for a struggling comprehensive than a political party. Or the roster of one of those dodgy personal injury law firms that are always advertising on daytime TV.
(Just imagine Mike Gapes walking at 45 degrees to the camera and asking “Have you or someone you know been injured in an accident at work?”)
They are the smattering of New Labour who don’t realise they got old, and aren’t so much moving away as being left behind. Refusing to flow with the current, and slumping heavily down to the riverbed, to be buried in silt and fossilised.
Who knows, in ten thousand years they might be worth something. Historical curiosities. Archaeologists, yet born, will be poring over old documents and asking “Yes yes…but who IS Chris Leslie…and what did he do?” without realising that everyone was asking that while he was alive too.
The strangest aspect of this is the lack of unity on their part. They are not a party, they are barely a group. They all seem to be leaving for different reasons. Mike Gapes likes war and wants more of it. Chuka wants other people to edit his Wikipedia page for him this time. Luciana Berger wants to do whatever she wants and scream “antisemite!” at anyone who tries to stop her. Angela Smith wants to stop Brexit and run a campaign on the line “Vote for Labour because we won’t win”.
This announcement, of course, has been expected for a while now. The “new centrist party” has been the subject of frenzied negotiation behind the scenes for weeks…now we know they decided on literally nothing and held a press conference anyway.
They aren’t so much a group of comrades storming out as a united front, but rather a bunch of near-strangers who all happen to be leaving the staff Christmas party at the same time and are forced to walk down to the car park together in stony silence.
Less the “Gang of Four”, more “The Seven People Who Sort of Know Each Other Well Enough to Exchange Polite Chat in a Lift But Only for Two or Three Floors and then it Gets Awkward”.
Labour, naturally, have been quick to declare that these MPs should now face by-elections. A gauntlet the seven of them have been startlingly reticent to pick up.
Angela Smith was on the BBC after the press conference, declaring she won’t be running in a by-election because she’d definitely win, before capping it all off with a good old-fashioned piece of British racism.
Angela parted with Labour over “antisemitism” and, as of right now, her new political party has more racism scandals than it has names.
There’s even talk of bringing John Woodcock into the “Independent Group”. A man who was suspended from the party of allegations of sexual misconduct, but then endeavoured to turn it into an epic “you can’t dump me if I dump you first”, and pretend he quit on a point of principle (he didn’t) instead of being fired for being creepy (he was). Since then he has not gone more than three or four consecutive minutes without criticising Jeremy Corbyn. It would probably be annoying if anyone was listening.
All in all, this is the most humiliating and pointless Labour press conference since the last time they made a futile political gesture to try to get rid of Corbyn.
From our outside perspective, we can at least formulate a rough draft of a manifesto for these people. Broadly speaking they are in favour of stopping Brexit, apartheid Israel, selling arms to Saudi Arabia, declaring war under a false pretense, privatising water and right-wing coups in Latin America. Some niche opinions there, but it’s a foundation at least.
One thing we can’t really help them with is a name. They need a new one, and soon. “The Independent Group” is dreadful. Shortening it to “TIG” doesn’t work either, because whatever else they are…they sure ain’t “it”.
Some people have been calling them “the seven dwarves”, a rather unfitting moniker when you think about it. After all, the seven dwarves worked as a team, had discernible personalities and most people know their names.
They are much more the “seven veils”: Disposable, transparent, and they go wherever the wind is blowing.