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The breakaway MPs are like a tribute act to the failed politics of the past

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If any breakaway “centrist” party was going to thrive, it was the Social Democratic party. Their founder members were political titans: David Owen, a former foreign secretary at the age of just 38; Shirley Williams, one of Labour’s most prominent women, an education secretary who fronted party political broadcasts; Roy Jenkins, a chancellor, deputy leader, president of the European commission and once a likely future leader.

They had gravitas, intellectual heft – Jenkins was a prolific author – and a body of ideas. They received adulation in the media. At the end of 1981, one Gallup poll gave them an astonishing 50.5% of support, light years ahead of both the Tories and Labour. “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government!” David Steel, leader of the SDP’s Liberal allies, triumphantly told his activists. And yet, a year later, the SDP-Liberal Alliance and political reality collided: it achieved 25.4%, a decent share for a new political party, but under our electoral system that delivered just 23 seats. Even though Margaret Thatcher’s Tories had lost half a million votes compared with 1979, her party won a landslide and were free to transform Britain with ruinous social consequences.

The new Independent Group – a holding title for a nascent party that sounds like an insurance firm – makes the SDP look like an exercise in political genius. None of their founders have national stature; they are an intellectual black hole, devoid of a coherent set of ideas; their first few days in existence have been shambolic. Yes, they will enjoy a protracted political honeymoon. The new movement is a blank canvas on which voters can project anything they want; and those, understandably, most angry about Brexit can register their frustration. But it’s not simply the fact that a simple political........

© The Guardian