"If I may say, you're still stuck in the old way of doing things. This is something new and different," said Anna Soubry MP on Newsnight on Wednesday, as Kirtsy Wark tried to pin the former Tory down on the Independent Group's (TIG) actual policy positions. Soubry wouldn't be backed into anything so vulgar, and instead said the group would stay together because of "shared values".
TIG won't stand for election, so why would they need policies? Back in the olden days, politicians would set out policies and voters could judge whether they liked the sound of them. "I think we should strip assets from the public and give them to our rich friends," they would say, and since every politician was saying the same thing, the voters could agree that this was indeed a fine idea that would benefit everyone.
But in the bright new future that is 2019, there's no need for such an antiquated system. Now, politics is just a vibe, a feeling. "It's almost difficult to articulate because it's just so obvious to us, and that's why we've come together," said Soubry. It’s just so obvious. The Independent Group has actually transcended politics altogether and is running off pure cosmic energy.
"We believe in sound economic policies," she said indignantly when pushed by Wark. Depending what your politics are, a "sound" economic policy could mean reducing public spending in an attempt to balance the books, or increasing public spending to stimulate growth. Which of these options does Soubry back? I guess we'll just have to tune into the telepathic waves that TIG MPs apparently radiate to find out.
Soubry said in her resignation press conference that the austerity enacted by the coalition government was a good thing: "The things we did to the economy were absolutely necessary at the time." According to one 2017 report, austerity resulted in 120,000 unnecessary deaths. Nevertheless, we must take her word that she backs "sound" economic policy. Never mind the fact she feels no need to spell out what that actually means. More important are the a-political set of shared values, which are all equally non-extreme and impartial on the subject of human suffering caused by sound government policy.
Anything can look new and exciting if it's untainted by anything as messy as an actual policy position, which is pretty helpful for TIG. But this is, in fact, nothing new at all. What unites TIG politicians is a disdain for the rupturing of the political status quo over the last few years. Some aspects of that rupture are good, some are bad, but it's pointless and regressive to want to return to the Cameron years, and certainly not dynamic.
It's for this reason that TIG politicians' attempts to look subversive and rebellious are so completely embarrassing. Take Chuka Umunna's swipe against Prime Minister's Questions, the weekly bout of dreary jousting between the PM and the leader of the opposition. It's a sentiment that might be agreeable if it wasn't articulated by a career politician making use of an off-the-shelf flat-pack "how to look anti-establishment" kit. A man for whom Westminster has been all about moving up, pretending he doesn't have dreams of standing at the despatch box.
But isn't it new and exciting that MPs from different parties are coming together? Attempting to inject the novelty of conflict during the Newsnight love-in, Wark pointed out that Chuka Umunna called the austerity that Soubry's beloved coalition government imposed "disastrous". This is pretty contrived. In reality, Umunna was hardly the greatest opponent of austerity. As shadow business secretary, he criticised the Tories' austerity while promising to stick to their spending plans, and slapped down Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy for suggesting that Ed Miliband’s Labour would end austerity.
Chris Leslie, another Labour MP to jump ship, told the New Statesman that he is "sceptical of Labour policies such as a 50 percent top income tax rate ('it depends on the use of that revenue and the economic impact') and the complete abolition of university tuition fees ('sounds great, the minor problem is: how do you pay for it?')." (Maybe you could pay for it by taxing the rich?) No wonder the Lib Dems are suggesting they won't field candidates in by-elections against Independent Group candidates – TIG stands for the same things the Lib Dems did when they were last in government. Namely, making some sympathetic noises towards universal public services so that people hate you less as you allow them to be destroyed.
This is why TIG doesn’t need to stand for anything. They stand for the same gutless virtue signalling that the centre have been standing for for years, and you can back that without really saying much. In fact, why say anything at all?
"I enjoyed the coalition," Soubry told Newsnight, like it was a nice day out to the seaside, and not a period of government that saw harsh fiscal discipline enacted on the poor. If this is the "something new and different", then it will feel weirdly familiar.
Only in a political landscape as amnesic and superficial as ours could these people present themselves as change and not be laughed out of the room.