LONDON – Politicians from across the political spectrum have been holding secret talks about forging a new centrist political movement, well-placed sources from all the major parties have told Business Insider.
If it goes ahead, it would be a new home for MPs who are opposed to Brexit and feel left behind in the centre ground as the Conservatives and Labour have shifted towards ever-more polarised positions.
Rumours about the plans have been ongoing for some time.
The Express newspaper reported this week on a series of private getaways by centrist Labour MPs, with other reports suggesting that a number of Labour MPs have come close to triggering a formal split of the party over the ongoing antisemitism row in the party.
Meanwhile last month, The Sunday Times reported that Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, missed a House of Commons vote on Brexit legislation to discuss the creation of a centrist, anti-Brexit party over dinner.
Cable admitted attending a “confidential private discussion” but denied it was to do with a new political party.
Well-placed sources have told Business Insider that MPs from different parties, including Cable, are indeed talking to each other about creating a new political force in Westminster.
Who is in the frame?
Labour’s Chuka Umunna and Conservative MP Anna Soubry are figures who sources say are actively involved in these discussions. Umunna has previously denied reports that he is behind plans for a new party called “Back Together.”
Chris Leslie, Labour MP for Nottingham East, is also central to discussions about a new centrist movement, sources have told BI. Other names mentioned by those close to the discussions include Labour’s Gavin Shuker and the Conservatives’ Heidi Allen, who tellingly was the first Tory MP to publicly criticise the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for his comments about Muslim women this week.
Those MPs said to be involved were contacted for comment by BI but did not respond by the time of publication.
However, don’t expect anything to materialise soon. Although talks are underway, they are at an early stage and a long way from specific proposals as to what form this new force could take, sources familiar with the talks said.
One source with privileged knowledge of what was discussed in a recent meeting told BI: “Even if I wanted to leak something from the meeting, I really don’t know what it would be. It was so vague.”
The creation of a new party is one suggestion. As is Labour and Conservative MPs defecting to the Liberal Democrats.
Insiders admit both ideas are unrealistic, and what’s more likely is Conservative and Labour MPs breaking from their whips to form a de facto parliamentary grouping, which would work together on an issue-by-issue basis.
Cable has been “sounding out” MPs who could be interested in forming an alliance with Lib Dem MPs after Brexit talks conclude next year, a source close the party has told BI.
Plus, it’s unlikely that Cable is going to order his troops to pack their bags and merge into a new political party any time soon, with the Lib Dems at the latter stages of major plans for wholesale party reform.
Even within the current party system, many are looking to bring in figures from outside their formal structures.
Lib Dem leader Vince Cable is set to announce a series of proposed reforms in the autumn, which if they pass would see non-party members vote in leadership contests, and people who aren’t MPs running in leadership contests.
The latter could lead to anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller becoming a future leader of the party, according to recent reports. Miller, who famously took Theresa May’s government to court over the Article 50 process, is currently penciled in to speak at the party’s conference in Brighton next month. A senior Lib Dem source said the party has not approached Miller about the role and does not intend to.
The reforms – known internally as “Project Ozark” after initially being named “Project X” – are designed to transform the Lib Dems by opening up the party to the wider public. They were inspired at least in part, by Tom Pitfield, a political strategist who worked for Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, who is currently advising Cable.
The party also has a new slogan, “Demand Better,” which insiders say was the result of weeks of deliberation. In summary, the Lib Dems have no plans to give up on the party in its current form.
So as things stand, while private discussions about a new centrist cross-party movement are taking place, they are still in their infancy.
However, with British politics becoming increasingly fractious, the time when current rigid party system splits for good, may come sooner than many expect.