The Independent Group — and where we go from here

There are three primary reasons why we find ourselves witnessing the tentative conception of a new political party.

Firstly, both the Labour and Conservative parties find themselves dominated by political views which sit outside their traditional mainstream. Secondly, and crucially, in both parties those newly dominant political traditions have proved to be intolerant of the diverse viewpoints that have historically nested together. Thirdly, the particular pressures of Brexit has brought these differences to the boil — Brexit itself resting on top of realities and myths within our country that stretch back through deindustrialisation, the end of Empire, the second world war and beyond.

The cumulative effect of this has been that the broad churches of the Labour and Conservative parties are beginning to crumble.

Where this heads now is not so obvious. Our first past the post electoral system makes the adolescence of any new party incredibly difficult. As long as first past the post remains, if either Labour or the Tories manage to hold together their party they will dominate the House of Commons for years to come. However, unlike 1981, it looks possible that both parties might splinter — producing a fundamental reshaping last seen in British politics with the strange death of the Liberal Party in the run up to World War II.

The first challenge the newly formed Independent Group will face is Brexit. Acres of column inches will be spilled on that — and their role within it — over the coming weeks.

Whatever happens with Brexit what will remain once the frenzy is over is a country that is divided on any number of fronts. From immigration to climate change, wealth to age, education to geography, Britain is riven with divisions. On top of this, these dividing lines no longer even vaguely match those of the broad alliances within the two main parties — and our current political leaders have decided to amplify divisions they think benefit them, rather than trying to bridge the gaps. In a country with a fragile unwritten constitution that is extremely dangerous.

We cannot go on like this. Whatever happens with Brexit we need to try to build our country afresh so that it works for everyone, and is a positive partner to the rest of the world. It is crucial that those now setting out to lead our country are able to be both on the dancefloor of Brexit and on balcony thinking now about what comes next.

Here, very briefly, are my beliefs about how we as a country need to do to build our country anew — a process that needs the full and positive participation of our politicians and political class, whether from within our existing political parties or new ones that emerge:

We must grow a new political culture based on debate and dialogue rather than division and abuse.

We must move power out of London and back into our great towns, cities and counties.

We must be honest with people that there are many problems we face which have no easy answers.

But where there are easy answers we must take them — even if it involves some political pain.

We must understand that technology has fundamentally changed the world — and that means politics needs to change fundamentally too.

We must accept that the existential threat of climate change and environmental destruction needs to sit at the heart of our politics from here forward.

We must acknowledge that markets need to work for people, rather than people for markets.

I’m sure that they way I have expressed these ideas is imperfect. I am sure there are other ideas that should sit alongside or ahead of these. But I hope you agree these are things we should seek to pursue, that they go well beyond the agenda of any political movement in Britain right now, and that they are changes that we should be seeking to make to our politics and our country — and seeking to make right now.

Things that might make the world better