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Quarter of voters ready to consider backing breakaway MPs, survey says

Back row from left, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left to right) Angela Smith, Luciana Berger and Ann Coffey, front row, from left Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Joan Ryan - part of The Independent Group
Andrew Woodcock

As many as a quarter of voters are ready to consider backing the new breakaway group of independent MPs who quit Labour and the Conseratives over the past fortnight, according to a new poll.

The survey suggested The Independent Group (TIG) is more of a threat to Jeremy Corbyn's party than to the Tories, with almost one–third (32 per cent) of those identifying as Labour supporters saying they could back the new group.

The findings of the poll, by Hanbury Strategy for the Politico website, were released as former Labour frontbencher Chuka Umunna was named as the grouping's chief spokesman.

In an indication the 11–strong group expects further defections, ex–Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has been given responsibility for "new colleagues".

TIG does not have a formal leader but Mr Umunna's role as "group spokesperson" suggests he will play a crucial role as it seeks to build its profile.

The Politico poll found TIG had achieved high levels of recognition among voters within days of its formation, with 62 per cent of those questioned saying they had heard about the group, compared to 24 per cent who were not aware of it.

Some 32 per cent of Labour supporters said they would be "likely" or "very likely" to back a TIG candidate if one stood in their constituency, against 29 per cent who said they would be "unlikely" or "very unlikely" to do so.

In bad news for Sir Vince Cable's Liberal Democrats, who have previously occupied the centre ground targeted by the new group, 41 per cent of the party's supporters said they might consider voting for TIG, against just 23 per cent who said they would not.

Sir Vince has made clear he is ready to cooperate with the new group on shared objectives but sources within TIG leave no doubt a formal pact will not happen.

The new grouping is seeking to position itself as a break from traditional politics and is understood to see little merit in yoking itself to a brand tainted for many voters by involvement in coalition with Conservatives.

Instead, it aims to create a new home for "progressive" voters and activists who might previously have been attracted by the Lib Dems or the centrist wings of the two main parties.

Although the group has gained no new members since Joan Ryan quit Labour on February 19, sources say dialogue is continuing with MPs, peers and councillors who may be considering switching from the traditional parties.

In a possible reflection of the new group's close identification with calls for a second Brexit referendum, just 18.5 per cent of Tory supporters polled for Politico said they were likely or very likely to vote for a TIG candidate in their constituency, against 51 per cent who were unlikely or very unlikely.

However, they may not have an opportunity to make the choice in the near future as TIG is unable to field candidates until it has registered as a party with the Electoral Commission.

There is no indication from the new group that it will be ready to stand in the upcoming Newport West by-election on April 4 or the May elections to local councils in England.

Mr Umunna is expected to use an upcoming speech to flesh out the group's goals and principles – so far sketched out only in a joint statement on its website.

Responsibility for Treasury and trade policy in the new grouping has been taken by former Labour shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, while ex-Tory Anna Soubry will lead on Brexit.

Other portfolios include:

– Heidi Allen: Welfare and pensions, social care, and business

– Luciana Berger: Home affairs, health, and digital and culture

– Ann Coffey: Children and education

– Mike Gapes: Foreign affairs and defence

– Joan Ryan: Group business manager and international development

– Gavin Shuker: Group convener

– Angela Smith: Transport, local government and housing, and energy, environment and rural affairs

Announcing the responsibilities allotted to each of the 11 TIG MPs, Mr Umunna said: "Our team is diverse and drawn from different backgrounds including a former teacher, social worker, lecturer, entrepreneur, solicitor and GP.

"We intend to draw on all the talents and experiences of our group as we seek to change politics and give the British people a proper alternative to the broken politics being offered by the main political parties.

"We are not a political party and therefore do not have a leader, but the roles and responsibilities we have assigned recognise that all the members of our group have the right to be heard and a responsibility to provide leadership."

– Hanbury Strategy interviewed 2,006 adults between February 22 and 25 for Politico.

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