Three Blind Mice, See How They Run…
Three Conservative Party MPs, Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, have defected to the Independent Group. All three have cited “no-deal” Brexit (which they oppose) as the triggering fact.
I have blogged twice already about IG in the past few days and also blogged recently about possible splits in both main System parties:
The three apparently intend to sit as Independents. They could have done that without pledging allegiance to IG, so presumably they look forward to IG becoming a registered political party, so that they can fight under its banner with a greater chance of retaining their seats in the House of Commons.
I start with the least experienced but also (the one I take to be) the best of the three. Heidi Allen has shown, in her stance on social security/welfare issues, that she has a social conscience lacking in most Conservative MPs (though her actual voting record has been patchy); in other areas she has shown a certain shallowness (she seems to favour so-called “refugees”). In other areas yet, I also disagree with her views: she is pro-EU and pro-abortion.
Her constituency, South Cambridgeshire, is safe Con territory, which she has made more safe: in her 2 elections, she has garnered 51.1% and 51.8% of the votes cast, whereas Andrew Lansley, her predecesssor, only got between 42% and 48% in his 4 elections (1997-2010).
How many votes will follow Heidi Allen, I have no idea. At one time, the Liberal Democrats showed strongly in South Cambridgeshire: their vote did not collapse in 2015, despite being at half of its 2010 level, and recovered slightly to 18.6% in 2017. Labour got 27.2% in 2017.
If Heidi Allen faces a new Conservative candidate, she will probably go down unless a large number of former LibDem and Labour voters switch to her. An uphill struggle though not impossible.
The oldest (62) and best-known of the three: a former local TV face, mainly in the East Midlands region. She was a TV reporter and presenter from age 25 to age 39 (1995), after which, having graduated in Law in the 1970s, she became a barrister, doing criminal cases. As far as I know, she was in the lower ranks even of the criminal Bar, but practised for about 12-13 years until elected to Parliament in 2010.
Anna Soubry seems to be one of the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” crowd (anathema to me, of course): eg she favours both fracking and “equal marriage” (marriage of gays and lesbians).
Accused by many —and more than once— of having been drunk at Westminster (she denied the allegations), she threatened on Twitter (before I was expelled), to sue me, for referring to her as “the MP for Plymouth and Angostura”! That threat never materialized. Perhaps it was just the drink talking…
Anna Soubry is known for her rudeness of speech and for her opposition to what she is pleased to call “xenophobia”, i.e. she either supports or does not oppose mass immigration into the UK.
Broxtowe, Anna Soubry’s constituency, is a Con-Lab marginal, held by Labour 1997-2010. Anna Soubry scored 48.6% in 2017, perhaps helped by her numerous TV appearances on BBC Question Time etc. The Labour vote was 45.3%. Majority: 863. The other parties are of no importance. Anna Soubry might be able to get enough votes to win through, but the more likely result is that Labour takes the seat next time.
The most independent, superficially, of the three, Sarah Wollaston was selected as candidate following an “open primary” election held by her local Conservative Party branch. She was helped to election by her former occupation as a doctor (general practitioner), the profession consistently rated as “most trusted” in opinion polls.
Like the other two examined here, Sarah Wollaston is another one who is “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”, favouring “choice” (ie pro-abortion), not opposing mass immigration, supporting “equal marriage” etc (and calling its opponents “bigots”). Indeed, she is rather intolerant of opposing views: she blocked me on Twitter, without my ever having tweeted to her, but I cannot now recall whether her intolerance was triggered by my opposition to mass immigration or whether it had something to do with the “holocaust” mythus.
Sarah Wollaston is not as strongly pro-EU as the other two MPs, but seems to oppose mainly the “no deal” or “WTO” exit/Brexit path.
Sarah Wollaston’s carefully-crafted “liberalism” does not seem to extend to the poor or those in receipt of State benefits. She mostly voted for the punitive measures introduced by Iain Dunce Duncan Smith and his cohorts (eg bedroom tax, eg removal of lifetime tenancies of council housing).
Sarah Wollaston’s constituency, Totnes, is the only one of the three which I know personally. I appeared in 2006 as Counsel in the small magistrates’ court there several times (on behalf of South West Water, the utility company, which stood accused of minor corporate offences), and have many times visited the town. Totnes could be described as a town for affluent, well-educated (many bookshops, a Rudolf Steiner school nearby) and somewhat liberal-minded people.
Politically, Totnes has been Conservative since 1923 (though the present seat was only created in 1997, the previous one having been expunged in 1981), with the Liberals and then Liberal Democrats coming in strongly in second place until 2015. The LibDem vote collapsed then and did not much recover in 2017. In 2015, UKIP took second place with 14% of the vote (LibDems last out of five), while in 2017, Labour was second on 26.8% (LibDems third).
Sarah Wollaston’s vote has been consistently higher than scored by the previous Conservative MP, Anthony Steen (his father changed name from Stein), a rich Jew who had to resign during the pre-2010 expenses scandal.
Sarah Wollaston has the best chance, out of the three defector MPs, of retaining her seat. She is a truly local candidate (has lived there since the early 1990s), reflects the socio-political attitudes of many locals, and will probably be able to rely on many former LibDem and Labour tactical votes when opposed by a new Conservative candidate. However, in what could be a fairly tight 4-way split, anything is possible.
These three MPs will sit as Independents until or unless the Independent Group becomes a registered party. The only one I would put any money on to retain her seat would be Sarah Wollaston. In any case, all three have a fallback position: Heidi Allen’s family has a successful motorbike paint company, Anna Soubry’s personal “partner” is a director of the Morrison’s supermarket business, while Sarah Wollaston remains a doctor (though non-practising since 2010) and her husband is an NHS psychiatrist.
The fact that the absurd, leaderless, policy-free “Independent Group” is now already running at 14% in the opinion polls tells me that the British people are getting desperate for change, perhaps any change. Social nationalism is now in with a real chance.