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As grassroots support for the Independent Group (TiG) grows, its activists’ network claims to have potential local election candidates lined up for once the group gets its official party status.
On Friday, the Independent Group of breakaway MPs applied to be a political party - ’Change UK - the Independent Group’ - in order to field candidates for European elections.
But since it was formed in February by seven breakaway MPs, the Independent group has also started developing a network of local supporters across the country with an eye to fielding candidates for future local as well as national elections too.
While the two main parties are busy cannibalising themselves over Brexit, Change UK/TiG has been creating ripples on social media.
As well as the main TiG England, Scotland and Wales groups there are now 69 local TiG Twitter accounts, representing politically diverse areas across the country including Somerset, Bristol, Bath, Nottingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Derby, Bolton and Lancashire.
All the Twitter handles are run by different supporters - or ‘TIGers’, as they are known - and Dan Heley, a volunteer who runs The Independent Group Activists Network (@TIG_Network), says the group’s social media campaigners are in “daily contact” with each other, and in “reasonably close contact” with the group’s central command based in London.
Mr Heley is a former Labour activist who “jumped ship” to join TIG as soon as the group formed, launching the TiG network two days later.
“The idea is for [our local activists] to network locally to make contact with other enthusiasts, to fill in the gap where you would have traditional CLPs [constituency Labour Party] like in the Labour party,” he explained.
“There have been probably at least a dozen sitting councillors who have now resigned and now they are now throwing their support behind TIG, but because TIG is not yet officially a party, they have to stand as independents.”
The first Labour councillor to have quit their party and allied themselves to TIG was Warren Morgan, the former leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, who cited “Brexit, antisemitism and the toxic culture of aggression and bullying” within the Labour Party for his decision. However, he has since confirmed he will not be standing for election in May.
Since then, several others have followed suit.
They include Rowan Draper, the member development chairman at Stafford BC, an opposition councillor who claims that the Labour Party has “descended into the sewer” under Corbyn’s leadership and is now a “safe-haven for anti-Semites”.
He has since signed a letter stating that he welcomes the formation of the Independent Group of MPs.
“They aren’t accepting applications for membership as they aren’t a political party yet, but I will follow their development closely,” he said. “Whether I join when they are a political party will depend on a number of factors including policies and values. But I am definitely interested with what I’ve seen so far.”
Bexley councillor Danny Hackett, who stood for parliament in the last election against communities secretary James Brokenshire and had been a member of the Labour party since he was a secondary school pupil, blamed a culture of “bullying and toxicity” for his decision to leave Labour.
Mr Hackett told LGC that he is “supportive” of the TiG MPs and their stated desire to change politics, and is “looking forward” to a new party being formed. “At the moment I am focussed on serving my constituents as an independent councillor. When a new political party is formed, I will make an announcement,” he added.
A flurry of other local councillors who have recently quit Labour are holding fire until the Independent Group solidifies its policies.
Five councillors quit Labour earlier this month from Camarthenshire County Council, including the party’s former leader there, Jeff Edmunds.
One of the those to quit, Shahana Najmi, explained that it wasn’t her intention to ally herself to the Independent Group - although she hadn’t ruled that out in the future,and believed the other four councillors who left Labour shared her sentiments. “I left Labour because I was not convinced by the people leading the Labour group locally,” she added.
Paul Wilson quit Labour to become an independent five weeks ago in Salford, citing “anti-semitism and local mismanagement”. He told LGC that he was “a little undecided” where the Independent Group are going at the moment, but will keep an eye on how things unfold.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission explained that if and when TiG gets party status - which would take at least another 10 days - it could put candidates forward for local elections, or indeed any election for which a ballot paper is required.
Mr Heley said he believes there will be a “massive shift” in support from local councillors when TiG has become a party, and that to some extent, that’s already happening. “We already have people who tell us they’re planning to stand for local election for TiG when they are able to do so,” he said.
Only time will tell whether Change UK - the Independent Group will prove to outlast the Brexit furore and lay the foundations to become a real threat to the Tories and Labour. In today’s fragmented political landscape, anything is possible and there is still all to play for as we go into ‘Brextra’ time.
Jessica Hill, senior reporter