As befits a nascent political party that is to a significant extent playing to the media, whether print or broadcast, the place to try and find out about the so-called Independent Group of MPs is in that media. So it was that two of their MPs, former Tory Heidi Allen and formerly Labour Luciana Berger, fetched up on The Andy Marr Show™ today.
And as an exercise in finding out what the group stood for, it could be summed up in one word - pointless. There was rather more soundbite and waffle deployment than such trivia as an actual policy position. Also, Ms Berger took the opportunity to put the boot in on the party she had just departed, claiming “The Labour Party has betrayed its promise to the British people to do everything possible to protect their jobs”.
Wasn’t it the truth, Marr asked, that if there were a by-election in Liverpool Wavertree, that the electorate would vote Labour and therefore not for her? “I can only reflect on the response that I’ve had over the past six days … the multitude of calls that I’ve had, the emails, the response I’ve had …”. It’s a rock solid Labour constituency. She’d be out.
Perhaps Ms Allen would like to say something about her standing in 2017 on a manifesto that asserted she would not “spend precious time resisting Brexit” and that “a second referendum is not what we should be aiming for”. But now all was changed. So why was that? “As politicians we have to deal with the facts that are in front of us right now”.
Was Ms Berger a big fan of George Osborne? She correctly saw this as a giant elephant trap. “We are not going to agree on everything”. That’s most useful: as Marr pointed out, her new colleague Anna Soubry had praised the former austerity Chancellor. But she did have more to say. “What binds us together is our values, and our commitment to doing something different … there’s going to be things that we disagree on”.
We weren’t learning much here. But she had more to say. “What we’re seeking to do going forward is that we’re going to operate in an adult way”. Marr tried again: “Members of the public do need to know what you stand for”. So he pitched some specific questions, like what about re-nationalisation of water and the rail operators?
Ms Allen fielded this, but then Ms Berger brought out the catch-all defence which we may hear rather a lot in the coming days. “We’re six days in. We’ve taken the steps to leave our parties. We haven’t even had our inaugural meeting, which we were really looking forward to”. “Tomorrow” confirmed Ms Allen. Then came another new soundbite from Ms Berger.
“You’re asking me through the prism of old politics, and what we’re seeking to do is do this in a very different way”. There was more talk of values. Ms Allen wanted to stress that they were not going to be rushed. They would be doing things properly. There would be a political party. She suggested that it might work like in business - “coalescing around the evidence”. That was about as good as it got. In other words, not very far at all.
The Independent Group is thus far dependent on media outlets, and those media outlets are going to tire of them unless they can tell the world where the beef is.
Flannel and soundbites are not going to cut it. I’ll just leave that one there.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at