Tom Richmond: The Independent Group’s shock to two-party system could be change for better

I DO not subscribe to the view that the new cohort of Independent MPs should fight by-elections after choosing to break ranks from the Tory and Labour parties.

Graeme Bandeira's latest cartoon is in The Yorkshire Post today.

After all, this did not happen when Reg Prentice defected from Labour to the Tories in 1977 – or when the likes of Shaun Woodward and Quentin Davis switched from the Conservatives to Labour when Tony Blair was in his pomp.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The rare exceptions were David Davis’s vanity by-election in Haltemprice and Howden on civil liberties – and the stance taken by Douglas Carswell when he left the Tories for Ukip.

Will others join the newly-formed Independent Group of MPs?

Like it or not, the views of the MPs coalescing together in The Independent Group have not changed since the last election when they were returned to Westminster.

It is the Tory party which has lurched to the right because of Brexiteer pressure being exerted by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group and Northern Ireland’s DUP – while Labour is back in the grip of the hard left.

As such, it is the response of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn – both studiously ignored the issue of defections at Prime Minister’s Questions this week – which will determine whether more MPs join the TIG movement.

In many respects, I hope they do. The dominance of the two main parties is not in the national interest – the choice in my constituency, one of the most marginal, at the next election is a fairly ineffectual, albeit loyal Tory MP or a Labour candidate who makes Mr Corbyn look positively moderate by comparison.

And while opposition to Brexit is binding together the Independent MPs, this is not the sole issue. Labour defectors spoke of their desire to take a stand against anti-Semitism while Yorkshire-born Heidi Allen, who left the Tories, was motivated by a desire for a fairer welfare system and greater compassion for younger people.

Of course, it is early days. The breakaway group have no resources – or machinery – to take on the main parties. They will also have to form a broader policy prospectus that extends beyond a second Brexit referendum. But at least they recognise that the status quo is no longer sustainable and they’re prepared to give it a go in their attempt to change the tone of politics – and political dialogue – for the better. Good luck to them.

THIRTY years ago today, one William Hague was elected as the MP for Richmond after scraping home in a by-election after Sir Leon Brittan resigned to become a EU commissioner.

Yet, looking at The Yorkshire Post’s coverage from the time, the fallout was dominated by an extraordinary spat between the Liberal and SDP parties who both fielded candidates before a more formal merger.

If they had not done so, Mr Hague (now Lord) would, in all likelihood, have lost. And this is a dilemma for the newly-formed Independent Group of MPs – what pacts will they subscribe to with the Lib Dems and others so they are not squeezed out by the two main parties?

A PRESS statement sent out by 10 Downing Street on Thursday included Theresa May’s response to the three Tory MPs who resigned from the party – and confirmation that the PM had met Rotherham-born Justine Greening and Phillip Lee, prominent Remainers, for talks.

Given this only happened after Ms Greening, the former Education Secretary, said repeated requests for a meeting with her former boss had been denied, a bit of sensitivity might have been in order. No. The missive began ‘Comrades’. Perhaps Number 10 press secretary Paul Harrison is rehearsing for a Jeremy Corbyn premiership.

NO wonder progress on post-Brexit trade deals is proving so elusive for Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart who is a junior minister at the department headed by Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary.

He found time the other day to issue a very lengthy press release headed ‘Drivers must keep their eyes peeled for cattle crossing the Westwood says Graham Stuart MP’. What has changed in the last 100 years? Talk about fiddling while Rome burns...

BOREDOM or rudeness? I’m referring to Chancellor Philip Hammond who looked even more gloomy in the Commons as he used his mobile device to either send texts, or emails, rather than listening to what his junior Treasury minister – and Opposition MPs – had to say on Brexit regulations. Either way, his demeanour sent out the wrong message.

LISTENING to some of those close to returning officers, they appear to be gearing up for a general election on June 6 – the argument being that the timing of a late Easter, and then the May bank holidays soon after, makes this the earliest date for the country to go to the polls. Time will tell.

AN election as early as June will not help the Tories if Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling is still in post as Transport Secretary. He is now being talked about by some commentators as the most inept Minister in living memory.

Quite possibly. But before judgement is passed, can you put party allegiances to one side and name some potential rivals in the incompetence stakes?

THIS brings me to an update on topically-named horses. As connections of Brexitmeansbrexit mull a run before March 29 in a bid to end a long losing streak, Article Fifty – winless since November 2017 – was a remote 11th of 
13 runners at Wetherby on Tuesday despite being ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson.

Neither nag, however, bodes well for Theresa May.