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The Independent Group Is a Vapid Exercise in Futility

Britain’s hapless Independent Group, the centrist party spearheaded by anti-Corbyn rebels, shows that politics without purpose leads straight to disaster.

Independent Group member MPs after a press conference in London on February 20, 2019. Leon Neal / Getty Images.

The story of Easter is one of a leader felled and resurrected, coming back far stronger than his followers dared ever imagine. Britain’s new centrist party, The Independent Group/TIG/Change UK/whatever-they’ve-renamed-themselves-by-the-time-you’re-reading-this clearly paid heed to the Christian rebirth story, and with their European election campaign launch they decided to up the stakes.

When they burst onto the political scene like a damp firework in February, their most notable achievement was managing to incur a racism scandal within hours of launching. This time, with a whole host of political nonentities and candidates no other party would accept if they were paid, they’ve managed to garner several racism scandals, as well as accusations of homophobia. On day one, the party was forced to sack a candidate after it emerged he’d previously tweeted that we would back Brexit if it meant Britain would be free of “Romanian pickpockets”. Not to be outdone, a second candidate was forced to resign after the discovery of multiple sexist and racist comments, including “Black women scare me. I put this down to [being] chased through Amsterdam by a crazy black whore.

One of the party’s highest-placed candidates, the former deputy to European Council president Donald Tusk, Jan Vincent-Rostowski, claims to have recanted his previous view that “a stable society is based on heterosexual relations” and that gay couples should not have access to health insurance, stating now: “My personal views, like those of many people, have changed fundamentally, and are now that we must have equal rights for all people.” Meanwhile, the party accused a journalist of a “smear campaign” for publishing the myriad comments expressing Islamophobia and supporting far-right politician Tommy Robinson made by one of their London candidates, Nora Mulready. Those criticizing the party are “cultists,” TIG added. For TIG, like the Conservative party, some forms of racism are more acceptable than others, and hatred of Muslims is worth defending and attacking journalists over.

Losing a candidate per day over racism, sexism and bigotry is careless, but then nothing TIG has done appears to have been the object of a moment’s thought. The motley collection of ex-Labour and Tory politicians claim to have subjected their candidate list to strict vetting, and whoever took their cash and claimed to have done so can only be applauded for pulling off such an audacious swindle. Their newly unveiled logo, a stack of black horizontal lines, looks like the redacted Mueller report and conveys precisely nothing. Their website still has no concrete policy proposals, and doesn’t mention the word Brexit once, despite their claim that backing UK membership in the European Union is a foundational reason for their formation.

The fiasco reveals the moral bankruptcy at the heart of centrism: by attempting to act as all things to all people, they become precisely nothing to no one. Their candidates are so poor because they have no moral compass: the only people they can attract are those pursuing power purely for the allure, rather than for any real desire to, ironically, change anything. With no policies, the only candidates sucked into their vortex are cranks, embittered individuals no other party will touch. Without class as the crux of politics, no British political party can operate effectively: for the Conservatives, this means battling for the boss class and panicking as more and more people find their income and life chances suffer. For Labour, this means positioning themselves against wealth inequality, and for a politics that redistributes and promotes fairer infrastructure.

For TIG/Change UK, ignoring class and policy altogether exposes them as simply a gaggle of self-promoting hobbyists, with the minuscule polling figures they richly deserve.