The Independent Group: a shaky yet encouraging launch

A new British parliamentary grouping launched on Monday which now comprises of eleven MPs; eight parliamentarians have defected from Labour and three from the Conservatives to form The Independent Group.  Their share of seats equals the number held by the Liberal Democrat Party and there are rumours that more MPs will join.

The formation of this group has been welcomed by the media. They’ve enjoyed wall-to-wall coverage – from Good Morning Britain to the Today programme – which has been mostly positive in tone; one political journalist went as far as writing that the creation of this new group “feels like a window in British politics has been opened and fresh air is pouring in”.

And yet the launch has been shambolic in many ways.

The group haven’t registered as a political party and instead have setup as a company.  Whilst they only need to register as a political party by the time they stand in an election, it left them open to the accusation that it is to avoid having to be transparent about who is funding them.

Their website has been down for most of the week, meaning that they have missed the opportunity to sign up supporters and donors during a period of earned media interest that they will struggle to replicate.

The message discipline of the MPs speaking to the press has been poor. Anna Soubry opened up an entirely unnecessary line of attack on Theresa May about immigration when surely all they should be speaking about is the fact that the current two party duopoly isn’t representing what the majority of British people want.

Their Instagram, Twitter (165,000 followers already, which is more than Momentum) and YouTube accounts are without the sort of content that keen advocates can take and share.

And yet there is enough about the new grouping to inspire hope in those who have felt politically homeless since the summer of 2016 – the last time either of the two main parties were led by a socially liberal, pro-business and internationalist political leader.

The name of the organisation is authentic. It is made up of a group of people who have risked their careers and put in jeopardy a huge number of personal relationships to do what they believe is the right thing. If that doesn’t count as being independent-minded, then what does?

It may be that the Electoral Commission requires them to change it because of the potential for confusion with candidates standing as genuine independents.  If that is the case, they would be smart to adopt another name which also speaks to a political mindset that many of their intended audience would subscribe to; ‘Independent’ connotes people who base decisions on evidence and is a badge many ‘centrists’ would happily wear (and there are other badges which could work just as well).

The simple wordmark logo is good. It has a timelessness about it, doesn’t try too hard and reads as authoritative; although one wonders if it less ‘Dieter Rams-style design restraint’ and more ‘we have to launch before Luciana’s waters break’ which inspired the minimalist approach.

The group’s tag line “Politics is broken. Let’s change it.” is too long, but the approach of summing up ‘the problem’ as stasis is the right one; something like “Get Britain Moving” evokes the same anger at the country being stuck and is much snappier.

And in Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry the new party have three sizeable political beasts with enough clout to generate the earned media required to have a chance of making a sustained challenge for seats at the next election.

There have been a litany of centrist political party launches in the last few years, but none with the sense of moral authority that the Independent Group have managed to project.  If they can sustain it and continue to build a positive identity about the types of people who should support them, then the volatile nature of modern British politics means that it would be foolish to write them off.

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