The Independent Group has brought forward its plans to become a political party, called Change UK, and appointed Heidi Allen as its interim leader. This is so it can stand candidates in the European elections, should Britain end up having to participate in them. The party will have its inaugural conference in the autumn.
This comes at a rather awkward time for the group of MPs who left their parties last month. They haven’t yet been joined by any more colleagues, with many Labourites who were wavering now putting their faith in Tom Watson’s attempts to renew the party. Some TIG/CHUK MPs have also made things more awkward with strange stunts, such as the attempt to start a Mexican wave in the Commons, which rather undermined their claims to be a group that wants to improve British political discourse. This kind of behaviour would be odd at any time, but it seemed particularly strange to be behaving like members of the Barmy Army at a One Day game when Parliament is in crisis over Brexit.
The two MPs who have led today’s announcement, Allen and Chuka Umunna (who seems to have named the party after himself), are potentially off-putting to other would-be defectors. Conservative MPs feel Allen didn’t technically leave their party, as she was never part of it in any real sense.
The group has also at times seemed to contradict the open, welcoming tone it sought to strike. Strident attacks on the cowardice of MPs on a second referendum have infuriated Labour colleagues who might otherwise be in a second wave of recruits. And Umunna has used his platform as spokesman for the group to pronounce who he does and doesn’t want to join, pouring cold water on the idea of Nick Boles, for instance, when Boles was reportedly considering leaving the Tories altogether.
These could just be the sort of gawky adolescent problems that any new party goes through. But it will require more than a new name and a registration with the Electoral Commission to ensure that CHUK has a lasting impact on British politics.