TIG is dead. Long live CUK! The Independent Group has registered as a political party, “Change UK – The Independent Group”, in anticipation of the European Parliament elections next month. Heidi Allen, the former Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, has been named as its interim leader until a full election at the party’s inaugural conference in September.
Both the choice of name and leader – Allen was the unanimous choice of the party’s 11 MPs – reflect what TIG sees as its political raison d’etre: to act not as an adjunct to any of the existing parties but as a disruptive anti-system entity. Or, as Anna Soubry put it in the Commons this morning, “a new way of doing politics”.
Senior sources within TIG argue that Allen, rather than the group’s spokesperson Chuka Umunna or its convenor Gavin Shuker, best embodies that mission. First elected in 2015 after a career in business, Allen’s, TIG MPs say, is a “non-political background”.
To a large extent it is an attempt to provide an early and conclusive answer to the question that bedevilled the SDP in its early years: is the new party seeking to supplant the existing liberal-left players in the current system, or remake that system entirely? TIG believes it can only make electoral hay in the latter pose.
Allen herself maintains she has “always been apolitical”, though her colleagues make clear that her appointment did have a necessarily political dimension. “We have an ex-Labour convenor and spokesperson,” one TIG MP said, “so it’s really important that people from the One Nation Conservative tradition felt they had a part to play too.”
There is, of course, potential for those internal tensions to come to the fore over the course of the party’s first leadership election – to be determined by an electoral college of MPs and supporters, each with 50 per cent of the vote. But for now, the party’s strength is in its insurgent status. MPs say its offer at the European elections, should they happen, will be a straightforward one: “We want to stop Brexit.”
There is a recognition that a broader prospectus will eventually be required, and TIG is seeking to spin its registration as having been forced prematurely by the likelihood of a long extension to Article 50. “We deserve to fail if all we are is anti-Brexit, or the opposite of Ukip,” said one senior MP. But in an election contested under proportional representation, its hope – and expectation – is that nothing more will be necessary.