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Can the new British party buck the trend of division sweeping the globe?

Breakaway MPs from both major parties joined together to form a new political party. Photo/Getty Images

Regardless of what happens with Brexit, The Independent Group is raising questions important to our time.

And so Britain faces its moment of truth once again, but what that truth is no one is quite sure. The country is due to leave the European Union on March 29, and yet that deadline has become like Zeno’s arrow, a destination that seems philosophically impossible to arrive at. 

In the déjà vu democracy that now operates here, Parliament is voting on whether to accept Theresa May’s new deal with the EU – the one that EU members have already insisted will have nothing new in it – having in January voted by a huge number to reject the first proposal that was almost exactly the same as the new one is likely to be. If you’re scratching your head, trying to work out what that means, all I can tell you is that you’re not alone. A whole nation is with you.

Into this strained limbo that has turned Britain at large and Parliament in particular into a pit of seething resentments, comes a new party. The Independent Group (TIG) has been formed by eleven breakaway MPs – eight from the Labour Party, and three from the Conservatives. 

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As yet they don’t have much of a manifesto, but there are two policies on which the group is united. They’re in favour of the EU and a second referendum, and they’re against antisemitism. At the moment, those issues also happen to be the ones that are dominating political debate. The Labour Party can speak of nothing else and, against its leadership’s self-righteous instincts, has reluctantly agreed to support a second referendum and acknowledge – sort of – that the party has an antisemitism problem. 

One of the MPs who left Labour is Luciana Berger, a pregnant Jewish woman, who was bombarded with antisemitic threats and insults, to the extent that she required a bodyguard just to attend the party conference. A once great campaigning party for justice and equality has become mired in conspiracy theories that blame Jewish bankers and the state of Israel for all the world’s ills. Atop this heap of hate sits Jeremy Corbyn, a man who sees himself as a dedicated anti-racist, but who can’t bring himself to mention the word “Israel” and draws support from people who see all Jews as a holding their prime allegiance to that state, unless they specifically state otherwise.

One of these characters is a man called Derek Hatton, a far-left maverick who made his name in the 1980s, when his Trotskyist group ran Liverpool council into the ground. On the day that Berger quit Labour, Hatton was readmitted to the party, only to be immediately suspended for a historic antisemitic tweet. A short while later a loyalist Corbyn MP named Chris Williamson was suspended – apparently against Corbyn’s wishes – after he claimed Labour had apologised too much for being antisemitic. 

TIG is at the moment little more than a protest group. But what they’re protesting about – the movement of both main parties away from the centre towards the extremes of left and right – is a concern that will only grow, regardless of what happens with Brexit. It’s not specifically a British malaise, because the same divisive trend is sweeping the globe, but it has taken worrying root here. TIG is almost certainly not the answer to the problems that beset this troubled land. But at least it’s raising the question.  

This article was first published in the March 16, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.