It’s not every day of the week, or every week of the year, or even every year in the century that a new political party is born in Britain.
Nor is the birth of every new party shortly followed by an opinion poll suggesting that it has 14% of the national vote before it is a week old.
But, as I have remarked in this column on several occasions recently, we are living in strange times - and the new party, currently known as TIG (which sounds like a somewhat abbreviated character from Winnie The Pooh but is actually an acronym for “The Independent Group”) was born in the last week and did immediately register 14% in the opinion polls, and is indeed now the 4th largest party in Parliament, admittedly by a narrow margin, as well as being the party with the 3rd largest share of the national vote if the first poll is to be believed.
There are all sorts of reasons why TIG has come into existence - some of which have to do with what is going on in the Labour Party at present, others of which have to do with what is going on in the Conservative Party at present, and others yet have to do with what is going on in relation to Brexit. There are also many reasons why one might expect this new party to be a temporary phenomenon: new parties in Britain, with the exception of those rooted in particular parts of the country, have frequently come and gone within a fairly short period, at least so far as having any serious influence in national affairs is concerned.
This is part of the reason why many of us, including me, are inclined to stick with whichever of the major parties we happen to belong to, and try to exert influence on and through that party, rather than inventing something more completely to our own taste at particular moments when the party we are attached to doesn’t happen to be heading in a direction of which we wholly approve.
But there are also plenty of counter-examples involving the triumph of new parties over old ones. It will be very interesting, to say the least, to see whether TIG does or does not turn into something really serious over the next couple of years and beyond.
Generally, those new parties that have long histories and profound influence in any country represent highly identifiable and particular interests. In Britain, the supreme example is of course the formation of the Labour Party which essentially replaced the old Liberal Party as the main alternative to the Conservatives in the early 20th Century by establishing itself as the representative of the Trade Unions and of the working people who were members of Trade Unions.
Similarly, the geographically based (and, in the case of Northern Ireland, the religiously based) new parties of the 20th Century such as the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP have firmly entered the mainstream as a result of representing a clearly identifiable interest. By this measure, TIG’s prospects don’t look particularly encouraging, but maybe we are living in a new, post-interest political environment.
Only time will finally tell us the answer to this question - but I certainly wouldn’t want to discount the possibility that, in the midst of the Brexit turmoil, we may be witnessing the beginning of what eventually turns into some pretty fundamental re-alignment of British politics over the next few years.