So Chuka Umunna chucked it in, as I'd told him back in October he might as well do, as moderates had no place in Corbyn's Labour party (Chuck it in, Chuka, 10 October 2018). We wait to see whether the Independent Group of MPs of which he is part go on to form a new party. But if they do I've already told him we know how it will end: in failure, like the SDP.
The launch of The Independent Group, if it can be called a "launch", seemed off key to me. While I have enormous respect for Luciana Berger and sympathy for the outrageous harassment she has received from Trots in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency, I read that the timing of the announcement about the Independent Group had been triggered by her need to quit Labour before the final stages of her pregnancy. If correct that seems strange to me and a complete PR mess. It would have been much better had she quit Labour purely on the grounds of anti-Semitism. That would have avoided diluting that message. If she had been followed by the other Labour MPs who have given that as their prime reason the message would have been crystal clear. Chuka and the rest could have followed in a week or two. As it played out it looked like the people who have been needling her in Wavertree, accusing her of intending to set up a new party, had actually been right.
The other thing in all this that really got me was Chuka and his chums rejecting the idea of joining the LibDems and having the brass neck to suggest that LibDem MPs join them. For a start, they haven't formed a party for the LibDem MPs to join. They haven't espoused any particular set of political beliefs or principles. So what on earth makes them think that people who are committed to a party with a tradition going back to 1859 would contemplate switching to their embryonic venture? Why ditch the party of Gladstone and heir to the Whig tradition, going back to Palmerston and Walpole, with its belief in toleration of non-conformists, abolition of the slave trade, the supremacy of Parliament, expansion of the voting franchise and free trade? For what exactly?
The only things that the Independent Group seem likely to agree on are a second referendum (oops, Labour has gone there now, the LibDems were already there) and that Corbyn's party is a nasty hive of bullying, Trotskyite anti-Semites. Big deal.
If you look at the people who have joined the Independent Group, they comprise mainly former Labour MPs who are naturally left of centre and Tories including Anna Soubry who would more naturally be somewhat right of centre. I read that, setting aside anything to do with Brexit, Soubry's political views are as close to Thatcherite as you can get.
When the Gang of Four (Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers) quit Labour in the 1980s announcing a set of political beliefs (the Limehouse Declaration) they launched the SDP as a fully operational political party within 2 months. Don't hold your breath on Chuka and his chums achieving that. I can tell you now that, including Chuka, they don't have one person of the calibre of Jenkins, Williams or Owen, let alone three.
The SDP foundered in part on whether it should be a party of the left, taking on Labour in a fight to the death, as David Owen wanted, or a centre-party that cosied up to the Liberals, as Roy Jenkins wanted. Jenkins of course won that one. Now there should be no reason why a truly centre-ground party couldn't function successfully. After all you would find it hard to distinguish between most of the views of the left of the Tory party and the right of Labour, at least as they both were until recent years. But in practice it doesn't seem to work. I'm not an expert on European political parties but it seems to me that, in their mainly PR systems, they have moderate parties of the left and right. The extreme left wing (like Corbyn and McDonnell) are in far-left Socialist parties and the extreme right wing (like the far right of the Tories) are in parties like Germany's AfD. If there are any successful examples of true centre parties please would someone point them out to me?
As the Independent Group hasn't started out with a coherent set of principles I can't see them developing one on the hoof. So they'll have an even harder job than the SDP had in trying to "break the mould". Together with the lack of geographically clustered support, so essential in the first past the post system, they'll need more than Chuka's telegenic features. They'll need some of the political brains that I doubt they have amongst their number so far. And even then they'd face an uphill struggle. Oblivion beckons.
The question I have is whether the rift will cause Labour to come to its senses, as it gradually did after the formation of the SDP. I suspect the hard left has its hands too firmly on the levers of power and will use any means to hold on, though Chris Williamson's suspension is perhaps a cause for hope. The other chink of light is the fact that union donations to Labour have fallen. Maybe Labour just might not be a lost cause. If so Chuka and chums will have done the country a service.