It is an understatement to say it has been a busy week in Westminster. Having reached the heart-breaking conclusion that the party I have been a member of for over 30 years can no longer be saved – hijacked by Momentum’s machine politics and agenda – I had no choice but to resign. The Labour party that I joined and fought so hard for is now Labour in name only.
Monday’s announcement that we were creating a new Independent Group of MPs was a big moment personally and politically — and in turn started conversations across the country about the choices we face. Many of my former Labour parliamentary colleagues are privately wrestling with two questions: can Labour be saved? And is Jeremy Corbyn really the right person to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?
But the Independent Group is not just a reflection on the state of the Labour Party. The decision by Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston to quit the Conservatives in a historic break came after the prime minister’s relentless shift towards a right-wing Brexit agenda, which they felt betrayed the traditional “one nation” values they had signed up for when they joined. Both of Britain’s main political parties, having moved towards the ideological fringe, have lost the confidence of their moderate, mainstream representatives in the same week.
We have come together in the Independent Group of MPs around a set of values. To many, they may seem straightforward — but so many principles we have taken for granted now need not just re-stating, but championing afresh. We believe that Britain is a great country of which people are rightly proud; where the first duty of government is to defend its people and do what it takes to safeguard our national security.
We believe Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress and where government has the responsibility to ensure the sound stewardship of taxpayers’ money. From a strong economy we can invest in public services, collectively delivered through government action, widening opportunities and safeguarding the vulnerable.
We share the common view that individuals are capable of taking responsibility if opportunities are offered to them and that everyone can and should make a contribution to society — and have that contribution recognised fairly.
In a parliamentary democracy, representatives are not just the delegates of their party machines. MPs are individuals elected to exercise their judgment and show leadership. In our case, our values have remained constant but it is our parties than have moved away in recent times. It should not need saying, but we have to defend our free media, the rule of law and our open, tolerant and respectful democratic traditions. Internationally the multilateral rules-based order must be strengthened and reformed to meet contemporary challenges, including globalisation, technological advances and climate change.
And we believe passionately in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence and counter-terrorism. The Brexit disaster has already shaken the British economy and we will not stand by on the sidelines while the main parties put political calculations ahead of the national interest.
In short, we believe there are distinctive values at the centre ground, shared by millions of people, which must now be given voice. It would be terribly wrong if the British people had only Corbynism or Europhobia to choose between at the next general election.
It has been obvious in recent years that British politics is broken. The parties act like a cartel carving up political blocks of “votes” as if they own them. We are not yet a political party, but we feel strongly that votes should be earned and not taken for granted any longer.
Many people are enthused by the idea that some big changes are coming to British politics and the challenge will be to meet those expectations. But the path will not be smooth and we will make mistakes. These are early days and we will now want to listen and reflect on the public reaction. As a group of independents those searching for differing opinions will certainly find them.
But we have more in common between us and mainstream British public opinion than the parties we leave behind. We chose not to walk away from politics but stay and change our broken political system. We will try our best to build a better way forward in the weeks and months ahead.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds who have been in touch, expressing support and understanding for what is a difficult decision. At one point over 700,000 people tried to visit our website simultaneously www.theindependent.group
To have had such an overwhelming expression from local people is really heartening – and by a ratio of 3:1 pleased with the decision I made. This is mirrored very much in the fair editorial in the Nottingham Post this week (read below) who rightly reflect the level of interest in the idea of something new. You can read the full article of the interview I gave with the Nottingham Post here.