There has been much speculation as to whether the new Independent Group, made up of defectors from Labour and the Conservatives, will eventually evolve into a political party in its own right. New parties are created all the time (ex-UKIP members recently set up the One Nation Party and the Brexit Party, for example). The crucial difference here, though, is that any new party based on the Independent Group will already have a substantial core of MPs.
In terms of the mechanics, the group would have to take a number of steps to become a party; some legal, some just practical. 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. This is crucial if you want to contest elections. Without this, the Independent Group’s MPs wouldn’t be allowed to appear on ballot papers and the public wouldn’t be able to vote for them.
You need a leader
The act of registering would also mean that the new party would have to meet all of the standards set by the Electoral Commission (which the Independent Group currently don’t have to). This would mean that they’d have to have an official party leader, a treasurer and nominating officer.
This underlines that while the paperwork aspect of registering as a new party is quite straightforward, the practical implications of these requirements can cause problems. Currently, the Independent Group has mutually agreed not to have a leader. As a party, they’d have to have one – and they wouldn’t yet have a real membership to vote on it. Equally, the treasurer would have to supply all the details about their financing. This would open them up to financial scrutiny that they can currently avoid.
You need a constitution
The next legal requirement would be the creation of a constitution with the rules and regulations governing the party. This would involve things like what the party aims to achieve (although not necessarily specific policies). 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. However, once a mass movement was formed, they would probably demand a say in rewriting the constitution (very few organisations create the perfect constitution first time). The constitution would also have to outline membership rules and how meetings would be organised.
You need a name
The final step would be picking a party name. Ideally, this would be something memorable that would distinguish it from competitors. It wouldn’t be allowed to be anything too similar to existing parties. For instance, the breakaway MPs couldn’t use anything with either Labour or Conservative in the title, as it might cause confusion during elections. Otherwise, they’re free to come up with anything that isn’t longer than six words or potentially obscene.
They’d also have to choose a party logo that would normally appear on the ballot papers at elections next to candidates’ names. Something memorable here is vital. Usually parties have a colour scheme they try to associate with from a marketing perspective (the Conservatives blue, Labour red), but this isn’t a legal requirement.
From a practical perspective, the new party would have to then create the infrastructure normally associated with party politics in Britain. This would involve attracting members and funding. Ideally, the funding would be from small donations to prevent it from looking like it was being bankrolled by just a few rich individuals. The party would also need the members to organise local party branches and go out to canvas for support.
Once this is done, the party needs to start selecting a list of candidates to stand at the next election. As a new party with potentially limited funds, it might decide to focus on a small number of seats that it feels it can win, as opposed to competing in every constituency and spreading resources too thinly. The priority initially would be to hold on to the MPs that are already in the group before recruiting new ones.
Beyond all these basics, a new party also needs to recruit professional party workers, pollsters and marketing teams. It would also need an advertising strategy to help make it a viable electoral force. So there’s lots to do before the Independent Group can really become a fully operating political party – if, indeed, that’s even what its members want.