Unless you’ve been under a rock all week, you can’t really fail to have noticed that Westminster has been in even more turmoil than usual. And given the state of the nation at the moment, that’s really saying something.
At the time of writing the new Independent Group has 11 MPs, equal to my party, the Liberal Democrats.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, and only fool would claim to know for sure.
One thing we can be certain of is that this is a defining moment in UK politics. Nothing will be quite the same ever again.
As I go out canvassing, people repeatedly ask me what it all means for the Lib Dems. With local elections on the horizon, people want to know if they will be standing candidates, whether there will be an electoral pact, or even a full merger.
Needless to say, these are hard questions to answer. A number of the Independent Group have ruled out a merger with the Lib Dems. To me this makes sense. A new party needs to establish itself and create its own identity.
There’s a reason they haven’t published a manifesto yet. Everyone expects several more defections over the coming days and weeks. Only once everyone’s in can they have a proper debate about who they want to be.
However, it’s fairly safe to say that fighting a destructive Brexit will be pretty high up the agenda. As will ending austerity and taking action on climate change.
And therein lies the convergence with the Lib Dems. We certainly won’t be standing candidates against people who believe exactly the same as us.
It’s highly unlikely that the new Independent Group will be able to field candidates in the May elections. Some independents will be standing, but they are not in any way affiliated to the Independent Group and are as likely to share common ground with Ukip.
Although it is not yet clear what the relationship between the new group and the Lib Dems will be, we know that there will be one. It is likely that the Lib Dems will see a considerable swing in our favour as voters follow the Independent Group and look to endorse the burgeoning centre by turning their backs on the increasingly extreme policies of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
I note with humour the attempts by both parties to discredit members of the Independent Group.
It reminds me of a scene from Blackadder where General Melchett talks about spies. He describes those on the German side as “filthy weasels fighting their dirty underhand war.”
In contrast the British spies are “splendid fellows, brave heroes, risking life and limb for Blighty!”
Whether it’s the former Tories or the former Labour MPs who are the heroes depends on your own political persuasion.
I’m also amused to observe the demands on them to call by-elections in their constituencies. These calls coming from the very same people who reject a final say referendum. Are they arguing that now circumstances have changed, a second vote should be allowed after all?
I mentioned above that nothing in politics will be the same again and I stand by that. And I believe the biggest change will be the end of a party for life.
Blind loyalty is inherently destructive. People are waking up to the idea that there is a viable alternative to following a party wherever it goes, whatever its policies.
Party membership is not hardwired into our DNA. If the Independent Group has shown us anything it is that it’s time to think for ourselves and stand up for what we believe in.
If you think austerity is a good thing then vote Conservative. If you want to see a hard Brexit then it’s ok to vote Labour. But if you don’t believe in either then there’s now a viable alternative.
I applaud what the Independent Group is doing. It’s an exciting time for centrist politics.