Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston are not the first MPs to break away from the Conservative party. The list of Tory resigners goes back to Winston Churchill in 1904 and beyond. And they are unlikely to be the last. Back in October I had a coffee at the Tory conference with a cabinet minister who confessed: “Part of me is longing for Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg to become leader so the rest of us can just leave and join a new party.”
Wednesday’s departure of “the three amigos”, as Allen called them at their press conference, does not make that much larger Tory fissure a certainty – much will depend on the Brexit endgame. But it makes it more likely. It also marks a potential watershed for the 21st-century Conservative party. When the three former Tory female MPs – and their gender is definitely part of the story -crossed the floor of the House of Commons this morning, they threw down the gauntlet to an entire generation of 21st-century Tory modernisers to either stand up or stand down.
They did something else too. The sight of a group of MPs abandoning a Tory government to sit with the opposition is unusual enough. What made their move even more unusual was that the three women went straight over to sit with the seven – now eight – former Labour MPs who themselves broke with Jeremy Corbyn’s party on Monday. By doing this they raised, in the most visible way, the possibility that these 11 independents are the outriders of a new party formed from simultaneous splits of both the two main parties in parliament. [Continue reading…]