The TIGgers, the so-called ‘independent group’ of MPs that have left both Labour and the Tories this week, are the new kids on the block – but what could this mean for local politics?
The TIGgers don’t yet have a political party infrastructure, they don’t have a set of policies – only a few values that seem deliberately vague, and at the moment they seem to be a single-issue anti-Brexit / People’s Vote party – when it’s possible (maybe) that Brexit might be sorted within the next month. That’s not to say that the Labour defectors in particular, are very genuine about the anti-Semitism in the party and Corbyn’s unsuitability to become leader.
However, all that could change in a week. We could see funding pour into them from the likes of Love Film’s Simon Franks; Labour Brexiteers could join (that’s one rumour); or an avalanche of people from Stephen Kinnock to Amber Rudd could join and create the new En Marche!
That could mean a general election this autumn (sorry). But what about grassroots members, local activists – and most importantly for the development industry, local councillors?
The question is would we see defections of councillors to the new party – let’s call it The SDP Mark II – costing both the Conservatives and Labour overall control of councils in some parts of the country?
Here we need to understand the personality of councillors, and why they are councillors in the first place. Many councillors from all the major political parties harbour ambitions of eventually becoming an MP or progressing in the political world, particularly younger councillors (those under the age of 40). Leaving an established party for a smaller party could reduce their chances of becoming an MP or progressing elsewhere in politics.
Those over the age of 40 harbour ambitions to be a cabinet member for an area that interests them or become a leader of a local authority. The people that become councillors do so as they want to help change the world around them and improve people’s lives. The same rules apply for councillors as MPs, in order to shape politics and change the world, particularly in the British political system, you often have to be part of something far bigger.
That’s not to say all councillors are motivated purely by ambition. Some are more idealistic and ideological. Some may just not like their fellow party members, and their fellow party members may feel the same about them.
The TIGgers are most likely to split the vote on the left; they may attract disgruntled Tory voters, but far less than those on the left.
Standing to be a TIGger is likely to be a harder route to electoral success for candidates. No matter how ostentatious TIG become they will still face the same constraints that the most recent large splinter party, UKIP faced. Whilst there were a lot of councillors who defected to UKIP, UKIP only ever controlled one council, Thanet, during its halcyon days.
What about the lessons from the SDP? History tells us the lesson with the SDP is that councillor defections were greater in areas where the Labour MP defected. The SDP briefly controlled Islington (where all three MPs had joined) through defection of councillors – but then lost all but one seat in the 1982 council elections. In other councils, and where there wasn’t an SDP defector MP, councillor defections only happened when there was a large group all moving as one.
Faced with this cold hard logic it will be a major challenge for the TIGgers to see masses of councillors defecting to them in the future.
The scenarios where people may defect could range from Labour members in councils that are moving to the far left or Conservative councillors perturbed by their associations becoming Blue Kippers. Councillors may also defect to the party if they fear being deselected by their local associations; however local elections in London are three years away. Defections appear more likely to happen in London and the home-counties, rather than elsewhere in the UK, based on the pro-remain views of the group and the electorate.
If you’re on twitter you might want to check who follows https://twitter.com/IndyCouncilGrp.
A week is a long time in politics quipped Harold Wilson in 1964. His phrase has never been more poignant in British politics than at present, indeed there have been many long weeks over the past couple of years in British politics. For developers working in local authorities at present they should heed the words of our Prime Minister, ‘nothing has changed’.