At a critical point in British politics because of the challenges and confusion surrounding Brexit eight Labour politicians have quit the Labour Party and decided to sit as independents with the intention of creating a new centrist party .They have now been joined by three centrist leaning Tory modernizer MPs who have severed their Conservative party affiliation to sit as independent MPs with the former Labour MPs. This makes for a total caucus of 11 MPs and there may well be more to join them.
The gang of four who quit the Labour Party in 1981 David Owen, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers later formed a new Social Democratic Party that eventually was absorbed by the Liberal Democrats . They were all prominent front benchers .
This is not so of the current group who while larger in number are mostly much less prominent. The departure of prominent Labour politicians in 1981 did some lasting damage to the Labour party in the 1980s but ultimately did not work to the advantage of the departing politicians. Instead it benefited the Tories who were able to prolong their government under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major who succeeded her. Labour did not return to government until Tony Blair won power in 1994.It was a long 15 years out of power for Labour. It will be worth watching carefully to see if something similar might happen again because of vote splitting benefiting the Conservatives more than Labour in marginal Labour seats. The other more unlikely possibility is that a new centrist party might emerge and capture enough seats in the next election to be a serious force in British politics. Unlikely but not impossible.
To avoid such outcomes the Labour party leadership and rank and file will have to listen carefully to all sides in the debate that will now ensue and keep lines of communication open.
Party standings in UK parliament
Lib Dems 11
Independent group 11
Sinn Fein 7
Plaid Cymru. 4