How do you start a new political party?
MPs in the Independent Group hold first official meeting after breaking away from Labour and Tories
The 11 breakaway MPs in the Independent Group are holding their first official meeting today as they look to form a new political party.
The expectation is that the so-called TIG group “may pick a formal leader (and possibly even a policy or two), although nothing has been confirmed as yet”, says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night, former Tory-turned-TIG MP Sarah Wollaston backed former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna for the top job.
“I think we would all be very happy to see Chuka in that role - but we don’t know over the coming days and weeks whether others will join us and somebody else may emerge,” she said.
“But there’s clearly an appetite from the public to know who’s going to be our spokesperson, and I think that’s reasonable.”
Despite lacking both a leader and a policy platform, an opinion poll for The Observer over the weekend put support for the group at 6%, a point ahead of the Lib Dems.
The newcomers may not even need to change their rather perfunctory name, adds The Times’s Matt Chorley. “Insiders have also been struck that the shortening of the name to TIG, with members dubbed Tiggers, has also chimed with voters,” he says.
But what would they need to do to change their official political status?
How do you start a new party?
In terms of the mechanics, any new group of MPs would have to take a number of steps, both legal and practical, to become a party.
The legal aspects “would involve registering the new party with the Electoral Commission in order to comply with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act”, writes Matthew Mokhefi-Ashton, a lecturer in politics at Nottingham Trent University, in an article for The Conversation.
To meet all of the standards set by the Electoral Commission, any new party must have an official party leader, a treasurer and nominating officer.
Unless you want to start a minor party - one that will only contest parish and/or community elections in England and Wales respectively - you must include a financial scheme demonstrating how the group will comply with the legal requirements of party and election finances. In particular, it must outline how the party intends to deal with donations and loans.
Another legal requirement is a constitution with the rules and regulations governing the party. This constitution would also describe how candidates would be selected for office and how the party itself would be structured.
“As the party still wouldn’t have members at this point, this would be fairly easy to do,” says Mokhefi-Ashton. However, once a mass movement was formed, “they would probably demand a say in rewriting the constitution as very few organisations create the perfect constitution first time”, he adds.
What are the benefits of not belonging to a party?
You can stand for election and sit in Parliament without being a member of a party. In that case, “you can use the word ‘Independent’ to identify yourself on ballot papers, or have no description”, says the Electoral Commission.
Former Independent MP Martin Bell has outlined the advantages of that status. “They no longer have to attend the meetings of their parliamentary parties or constituency associations,” he writes in an article for The Guardian.
“They no longer have to argue for policies and practices they no longer believe in and every vote they cast is a free vote.”
But, for TIG, working together is likely to be the most effective way of making a difference in Parliament, where they are now the joint fourth-largest group of MPs, alongside the Lib Dems.
As the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg says: "When a government has no majority on its own, even shy of a dozen MPs can wield political strength.”