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Does The Independent Group really have an Anna Soubry problem?

Awkwardness struck almost immediately when Anna Soubry joined The Independent Group. The day before, the original members had sadly proclaimed that they hadn't left Labour - it had left them. But any notion that TIG is some kind of Continuity Labour, abandoned by the Corbynite left, didn't survive contact with its new Tory members.
This got widely seized on as exemplifying the deep problem at the heart of TIG, namely that it doesn't have much concrete policy platform and its members disagree about a lot of seemingly core issues.

I am sceptical. It will obviously be a challenge to build TIG into a unified party with someone like Soubry in it. But if it's a really significant challenge, that's nothing to do with Anna Soubry in particular - it's just an indication that the group's whole political strategy might have been doomed from the outset.

The starting point has to be some sense of what TIG is actually trying to do. I think it's pretty clear that their ambition, deep down, is not to be a third party displacing the Lib Dems (though that is obviously the best they can hope for in the short run.) It's to be one of the major parties in contention for government.

If you're going to achieve success on anything like that scale, you're not going to do it by becoming a pro-European party with slightly-left-of-centre economic policy. That is obvious from the performance of the Lib Dems, who even before the coalition poisoned their brand never achieved mass support. And it's also a well-known fact about the spread of voters' political opinions - there are just not that many people in the socially-liberal, economically-moderate camp. (Especially compared to the numbers who might support the alternative split-the-difference proposition, an economically-leftist socially-authoritarian party.)

The path to success goes through the widely floated idea that Western politics is realigning, so that the primary axis of competition will be that open/closed, global/national, liberal/authoritarian divide. So the "open" party - founded on messaging that's anti-Brexit, anti-racist and anti-isolationist in foreign policy - is one of the two major forces.

(As an aside, this realignment was kind of what Theresa May was trying to achieve - though on more Tory-friendly terms - by calling the 2017 election. It's very explicitly presented by Marine Le Pen as her vision of the 'true political divide'. Maybe it's good to have more entrants on the non-racist side of this vision or maybe it's bad to entertain the change at all - that question I am going to save for another time.)

Since I started writing this, Chuka Umunna has explicitly set out this line of thought:
Umunna brushes off the idea that he and his new ex-Conservative allies will struggle to unite around a set of policies, insisting that the old left-right divide is rapidly being supplanted by others.
“Your age, your academic qualifications, where you live in the country, whether you have a nationalistic or an internationalist view of the world. Whether you’re socially liberal or conservative. These factors are driving people’s voting behaviour more than ever,” he says.
To pull this off it is an absolute necessity that your party draws people who are not just pro-European(etc) and economically moderate - the small Lib Dem voter pool - but pro-European(etc) with other economic views. Which is to say that you need the kind of people who agree with Anna Soubry, not just about Brexit and the danger of 'Blukip' but also about austerity being good.

The honest answer to the question, "isn't your party fundamentally split on the essential economic policy debate of the last decade?", for TIG, has to be: "yes, but the two main parties are both fundamentally split on the essential social/values debate of the last (several) decades; you need to choose one axis or the other and we think it's time to put these social values first".

No doubt this is going to be a difficult manoeuvre to execute successfully. Maybe it's not possible at all, or maybe if it can be done it will require Anna Soubry to soft-pedal her economics a bit more. But this is really not a problem that has much to do with her. Soubry is just the first vivid representation of TIG's essential challenge: that its route to success lies in completely redrawing the political battle-lines, in a way that journalists and experienced politicians and many voters will find hard to swallow.

Put very crudely: it might be true that TIG can't succeed with people like Anna Soubry in it. But it's definitely true that it can't succeed without them. Maybe that means it was just never going to succeed. We'll find out.