If you have glanced at a newspaper, turned on the TV, looked at your phone or had any kind of social interaction *at all* in the past few days, you’ve probably heard there have been some seriously dramatic changes in parliament.
On Monday, seven Labour MPs – including Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger – announced they were leaving Jeremy Corbyn’s party, slamming the leadership’s approach to Brexit and handling of anti-Semitism. Enfield North MP Joan Ryan followed suit the next day.
Then, as Theresa May prepared to attack Corbyn in PMQs over the Labour split, Tory MPs Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen spectacularly revealed they were ditching the Conservatives to join Umunna and Berger’s self-styled Independent Group. (One can only assume the news took the wind out of the prime minister’s sails somewhat.)
The 11 MPs triumphantly took their seats in the Commons yesterday, with the seven Labour politicians snapping a rule-breaking parliament selfie to mark the occasion.
“To change our broken politics, we need a different culture,” the group said in a statement on their website. “The Independent Group aims to reach across outdated divides and tackle Britain’s problems together.”
While Corbyn and May are presumably pretty unhappy about the freshly-formed political body, a poll for The Times on Wednesday revealed one in seven voters would back the Independent Group in a general election.
But, if you’re one of those eagerly awaiting to put your cross in the box for the group – already nicknamed ‘TIG’ – there’s some bad news. At the moment, the MPs have not yet registered as a political party, meaning they are currently sitting in parliament as independents.
So what needs to happen in order for the Independent Group to become a party and accept your vote – and what could it mean for parliament?
What Does TIG Need To Do To Become A Party?
Before standing candidates under a common banner in a general election, a group of MPs must register as a political party.
At the moment, TIG is technically a group of independent MPs. It is supported by the company Gemini A Ltd, which was incorporated by Gavin Shuker – one of the eight breakaway Labour politicians – last month.
In order to be classed as an official party, TIG must register with the Electoral Commission, the independent body which oversees elections in the UK.
In order to successfully apply, a political group must appoint a party leader, treasurer and nominating officer and must also provide a constitution and a financial scheme.
Under Electoral Commission rules, a political party must report central donations of more than £7,500 and must attempt to ascertain the identity of any donor giving more than £500.
Will TIG MPs Need To Be Re-Elected To Form A Party?
Under parliamentary rules, MPs are effectively elected as individuals, meaning they do not have to face a by-election if they change parties or want to sit as an independent.
Meanwhile, TIG MPs – some of whom faced no-confidence motions from their local parties before forming the new group – don’t seem particularly keen to face a ballot.
According to the Mirror, TIG member Heidi Allen told reporters that the breakaway MPs “haven’t changed” since the last election.
“The last thing the country needs right now is a general election or any kind of by-election,” she said. “We stood on our own values, our own leaflets [and] our own campaigning when we stood in 2017, none of that has changed.”
What Would An Independent Group Party Mean For Parliament?
If the Independent Group successfully registered as a party, it would affect the arithmetics in parliament.
With 11 MPs, TIG would not only equal the number of seats in the Commons held by the Liberal Democrats – who currently also have 11 MPs – but they would outnumber the DUP, the government’s confidence-and-supply partners.
Meanwhile, the party would only need another 15 MPs to join its ranks to take the role of the Scottish National Party – currently the third biggest party in parliament – at PMQs.
The defection of three Tory MPs has already affected Theresa May’s fragile minority rule in Westminster, taking the number of politicians on the Conservative benches down to 314 – meaning just a small number of extra defectors could create real problems for the PM.