A must read on the Change UK drama

It was obvious before the election that there was trouble in the Change UK camp. The extraordinary interview Heidi Allen gave to Channel 4 News on tactical voting where she admitted she had offered to resign showed the tensions.

Last week, I was hearing rumours of an impending major split, with six leaving and five staying.

This is what happened today. We learned that Anna Soubry will lead the remaining five while Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Chuka Umunna are going to sit as independents.

There’s been some discussion on whether some or all of the breakaway will eventually come to the Lib Dems, and do we want them?

My view is that we need to work with others to achieve our liberal goals, but we need to be wise to the idea that some might be trying to undermine us and protect ourselves accordingly.

At Conference in York, I spoke against the proposals that would have given registered supporters a vote for leader. I think I was right to. It was a process rabbit hole and, actually, in the European elections, we saw what a pithy message could do for our performance.

Choose vision, not process, I said. That’s how you build a movement. And I think I’ve been proved right since.

But I’m very aware that we need to check ourselves if we get too tribal.

Let’s be welcoming to others who might want to join us. People like Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston are not a million miles away from us. I know that the pitch battles in Liverpool between us and Labour have been pretty bitter, but Luciana Berger is a decent MP we could work with. And we could happily vote down  Chuka’s proposals for national service at Conference while agreeing with him on a whole lot of other stuff. These are good people.

One of the best things I saw today was a twitter thread by the ever-wise Alex Wilcock, who suggested that being in a liberal party might free people up to be more liberal. I smiled when he mentioned Bob Maclennan as someone who surprised him with his liberalism. Bob had been a Labour MP who had joined the SDP, yet he was a passionate liberal. Bob was the first MP I ever really knew and his crucial first election as a member of the SDP in 1983 was the first I ever worked on.

Go and read this whole thread.

Alex remembered the times in the 90s when people joined us because we were where they were at on Europe.

LDYS considered the issue:

If we believe in openness we kind of have to be open.

If people can read the preamble to our constitution and say that’s where they are at, we should welcome them.

The people we need to be fighting are the person who is visiting us from America and his chosen successors to the Conservative Party leadership. Being invited to meet Donald Trump should be a bar to being Prime Minister.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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43 Comments

  • I’d be happy to see the lot of them join. “Liberal” should not be a tribal shibboleth used to divide “Us” from “Them,” but a banner that many can march under.

  • Nice thread Alex. I agree with it. And politics is seriously weird tonight.
    There’s a remarkable series of YouGov polls which show how people would vote in a GE under the various Tory leaders. The interesting thing is that we are on 22% for all five options. We’re actually leading or within the margin of error of leading for all of them, except Johnson. Note also how the Brexit party slips once May is out the picture.
    JOHNSON: Con 29; Lab 22; LD 22; Brex 13; Green 7; NAT 4; UKIP 1; CHUK 1.
    RAAB: Con 24; LD 22; Lab 21; Brex 17; Green 8; NAT 5 ; CHUK 1; UKIP 0.
    JAVID: Con 22; LD 22; Lab 21; Brex 20; Green 7; NAT 5; CHUK 1; UKIP 1.
    HUNT: LD 22; Con 21; Lab 21; Brex 21; Green 7; NAT 5; CHUK 1; UKIP 1.
    GOVE: Lab 22; LD 22; Con 20; Brex 20; Green 7; NAT 5; UKIP 1; CHUK 1.
    The poll was taken May 28-9.

  • John Marriott 5th Jun '19 - 7:04am

    @TonyH
    WHY do you quote Opinion Poll percentages as they have very little to do with the distribution of seats under FPTP? All they do show is how divided we are politically.

  • Yeovil Yokel 5th Jun '19 - 7:27am

    John Marriott – TonyH has rendered us a good service by reproducing these interesting poll numbers, it would be demanding too much of him to have him calculate the likely FPTP outcomes as well!

  • Charles Pragnell 5th Jun '19 - 7:41am

    The Tony Poll tells one thing, that is the Lib Dems seat distribution on 22% would lead us to have anything from 46 to 60 seats. This is based on the 2005 result. A second point I would like to make is that if Jo Swinson was to be elected leader, her profile would see support grow in Scotland. At the European elections last week , The Lib Dems topped the poll in Edibburgh South, Labour’s safest seat in Scotland. Labour was relegated to sixth place. Already signs show Labour pro Europeans switching to the Lib Dems.

    Also our poll rating in Wales has jumped to around 12 %, thus making it more likely we would pick up Carigdion Montgomery, and Brechin and Radnor.

  • chris moore 5th Jun '19 - 7:48am

    @Charles Pragnell 5th Jun ’19 – 7:41am
    The Tony Poll tells one thing, that is the Lib Dems seat distribution on 22% would lead us to have anything from 46 to 60 seats. This is based on the 2005 result.

    No, we would have more than that, as Labour and Con are on much lower percentages than in 2005!

    (Some of the seats in which we would now beat both Tories and Labour because of their falling away would of course be lost to Brexit Party.)

  • chris moore 5th Jun '19 - 7:50am

    Any Tigger 2/ Change UK MP who wants to join us should be welcomed and encouraged to play a significant role in the party.

  • Richard Kemp 5th Jun '19 - 8:01am

    This article by Caron is very much on the lines of my earlier one. In Liverpool we have agreed to stand down if Luciana Berger was a Change UK candidate. We will have to reassess that if she wants to stand as an Independent. Meanwhile we are in talks with individual Change UK members (although it is unclear who is, in legal terms, a member). The big question to my mind is why these liberals didn’t think that their natural home was the Lib Dems

  • @Chris and Charles – the polls make interesting reading. If the vote splits 4 ways as suggested by most polls then many Tory seats including Boris Johnson’s become Lib Dem target seats by virtue of the fact that the Brexit party and the Tories will split the leave vote and let a pure remain party in, also bear in mind a lot of Tory seats have remain majorities.

    So what happens in Labour seats? My guess is the leave vote could split three ways with soft Brexiteers voting Labour and everyone else voting Lib Dem. For the first time ever our vote becomes concentrated. The further Corbyn moves towards leave the better it is for us.

  • Here’s an interesting point. In the referendum 406 seats voted leave, 242 voted remain. That indicates the remain vote is much more concentrated than the leave vote. This should mean that if remain voters at a GE vote Lib Dem but leave voters split between the Tory party and Brexit party that not only would the Lib Dem’s pick up a lot of the remain seats but they could also grab a lot of leave seats based purely on the face that remain votes concentrate behind them. The elephant in the room is the Labour Party. If they come across as backing Brexit the leave vote will divide again and then FPTP becomes our friend….

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jun '19 - 8:54am

    Hi Richard. Yep that is the key question, was hoping to have time to answer that yesterday on your excellent OP ed.

    It actually opens up interesting consequences, but obs the straight forward reason is that other people’s ‘impression’ of us is not the same as ‘our impression’ of ourselves.

    It is a branding issue. Of course other people’s impression may lag any changed actuality about ourselves. And finally, our opponents are constantly trying to move the impression people have of us away from the actuality or from our own impression.

    Right now and for just a limited amount of time we have the chance to reduce the ‘lag’. But our opponents realise this and are busy trying to resist that – see the attempts by both the Greens and SNP to interfere with this (most notably on channels that are dealing with the leadership election.

    In short, our brand is never exclusively in our own hands.

  • Neil Sandison 5th Jun '19 - 8:59am

    Richard Kemp .”The big question to my mind is why these liberals didnt think their natural home was the lib dems ?. That i think relates to our time in coalition government when we had to go along with the Conservatives in terms of collective responsibility on cabinet decisions .many Liberal Democrats felt uneasy with and in some instances down right angry about at the impact some of those decisions had on vunerable groups in our society however much it was justified in terms of controlling public expenditure and targeting limited resources .We should put more emphasis on why the coalition broke down and how the Conservatives continued austerity particularly in the public sector way beyond that necessary in a recovering economy .

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jun '19 - 9:06am

    My partner is the ‘go to’ political sage in this house. Her reaction to learning about Chuka’s situation yesterday was to say “Oh dear. He should just give up and go and do something else.”

    Alex is clutching at straws. Leopard’s don’t change their spots (in politics). Both Charles and Bob did not change by being with Liberals post 1982. It was the observer’s view point that changed not the position of the observed. People like Sheila Ritchie who knew Charles from school and university debating forums knew about his Liberalism before he even stood in the 1983 GE.

    Owen did not change by being with Liberals and he caused so much wasted time for himself, for his new Party and for us who were formally members of the Liberal Party.

    Being with ‘us’ wont change Chuka – he needs to go and run a charity.

  • Billle Breton 5th Jun '19 - 9:23am

    Christian makes interesting points which should convince us that we have a very small window in which to convince people that “it is them (The Brexit Party) or us (The Liberal Democrats)” in the big battles ahead.

    We mustn’t wait for Labour to resolve their issues. This is our head start. Ditto we can’t wait for some kind of remain alliance to formalise itself.

    This is also why I have argued for some time that if we used the tactic of ‘Exit from Brexit’ the logic was that we had to completely revise our attitude to targeting from ‘strict’ to very indulgent. It was wrong to promise this and then not to try to be active in every constituency.

    People should now see that there are places that come into play that would not have been on a target list 6 weeks ago. Make it them or us over the next six months could completely crack open politics south of the border with Scotland.

    If you think this a fantasy, then, look at Scotland post 20214 and see what happened to Labour. What happened in Scotland is a pointer. The Brexit Party can do to the Tories and Labour what the SNP did to Labour and to us in 2015. Which opens up the task of opposition to The Brexit Party to us.

    Our raison d’etre. Our chance to demolish the lag between what many people think of us and what we are. (see answer to Richard, above. at 8.54).

    It must be’them or us’ or we shall have squandered this chance.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jun '19 - 10:08am

    Presentational point: Six divided by eleven is not half, it is a majority.
    Change UK is claiming 100,000 members, 600,000 voters and enough good candidates to fill the lists for all regions in the euro-elections, no MEPs, lots of regrets.
    Anna Soubry has said that her views have not changed, the Conservative Party left her.
    This different from the split in the SDP.
    David Owen’s party, which we called SDP2, contested a parliamentary bye-election with David Sainsbury’s money, emerging behind us AND behind the Monster Raving Looney Party https://www.omrlp.com/
    David Owen did not defend his seat in the general election of 1992. Two of his supporters did, in Woolwich and Greenwich. Both lost their seats, so there was no leadership election to succeed David Owen.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Jun '19 - 11:04am

    I have some minor differences with Caron as editor, on this issue even once I think, yet as often, here she is all that our Liberal Democratic movement needs. A real and tangible Liberal approach is herein.

    I write as someone who , in a way , utilising a quiet diplomacy online, has encouraged Change UK to look at us more and have now seen some are doing what I suggested and do, to them, are joining us in our party.

    There is a very fine group of Change UK active supporters who are in the process of becoming Liberal Democrats. I shall not name names here but they are doing so as a block. They are fine people. Harry Cole of the Mail, is whipping it up as some kind of entryist plot. A leading member of this group has asked that those like me who know it is nothing but good liberal people looking for a political home, to let people in our party realise this.

    Richard Kemp should, as with Caron in this excellent piece, be listened to.

    And the must read piece from our much and sorely missed Ruth Bright by name and nature says a lot. Come back to us and vote for Jo, we need you Ruth very Bright!

  • Laurence Cox 5th Jun '19 - 11:46am

    @John Marriott

    It is the work of a minute to put these figures into the Electoral Calculus user-defined poll and get out the predicted number of seats for each party. I did it for another discussion site I am on, so why don’t you try it? Go to: https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/userpoll.html

  • Paul Barker 5th Jun '19 - 12:04pm

    To me the really striking thing about the Independent 6 is that 4 of them are Women, if they all joined that would really improve the proportion of Women in our Parliamentary Party. Also our BAME contingent would double. Taken together that would change the way a lot of Voters see us, we would suddenly look a lot more like the Country we want to lead.

  • When a local councillor a decade back we Liberal Democrats and Independents on the Council formed & operated as a Liberal Democrat and Independent Group. Could this not be the case in Parliament?

  • We cannot stop people joining the Party unless there is something really seriously nasty about them. However, there are quite a lot of people whom we should be wary of welcoming. One of them is Mr Chukka Umunna, who wants to force people to join the army (as do at least two of the leading Tory leadership contenders). Should we really welcome to our fold people with extreme authoritarian views of that kind?

    A few facts:

    The so-called “Continuing SDP” was never known as “SDP2”. It was known as the “SDP”, retaining the same name as the group that had merged with the Liberal Party, but adding a tick to its logo. It masqueraded as the SDP, but in fact the SDP membership had voted for merger, so the use of the old party name was fraudulent. They passed themselves off, to use the correct terminology.

    Anna Soubry has a long and consistent record as a moderate Tory. I can recall her in the late 1970s saying that while she agreed with the Labour government’s 1976 cuts to public expenditure (brought on by the IMF loan), she thought that there should be more cuts. She was probably just repeating party policy, but those cuts were very deep and unpopular. At the same time, she was out of tune with Tory thinking on civil liberties type issues (“I am a Conservative woman who is in favour of abortion”, I recall her intoning from the rostrum). I am uncertain if Ms Soubry ever did join the SDP, but she was certainly one of a group of former FCS leaders who announced that they were about to do so.

  • Peter Watson 5th Jun '19 - 12:57pm

    Another difference between those who have left Change UK and their former colleagues is the length of time they have been MPs.
    In Continuity Change UK, relative “newby” Anna Soubry stands out as being first elected in 2010 while two were first elected in 1992 and two in 1997. Of those leaving, one was first elected in 2005, four were first elected in 2010 and one in 2015.
    Most of the new (again!) group of independents – mooted as potential new Lib Dems – look like they were fast-tracked through their respective parties into safe seats and might not be able to hold them against those parties. The attraction of the Lib Dems to them is obvious and their best chance to keep their jobs: less competition in an election and a ready-made supply of Lib Dem activists working for them. The party should probably be clear about exactly what it would get in return before being too welcoming.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Jun '19 - 1:33pm

    Chuka has never wanted forced army service. His notion was a limited period of peaceful or military input, a task force similar to a home version of JFK with his Pace Corps, and an alternative., a favourite description from Chuka, to going straight to college.

    If those who hear a sound bite did research things might become , evidence first, comment next…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Jun '19 - 1:36pm

    With his version of JFK Peace Corps, by the way, were a lot of other sensible, liberal policy ideas, read the pamphlet…

  • Multiple Opinion polls showing us on over 20% is good news but we need to keep banging the Remainder drum and articulate other key policies to address the many challenges the UK faces. More clear positive messages please from Jo and Ed in particular.
    With several parties on similar votes it becomes difficult to predict seats under FPTP. Our Russell Johnson retained his Inverness seat in the 90s with 26% of the vote and just 400 ahead of the 4th placed candidate.

  • John Bicknell 5th Jun '19 - 1:50pm

    I think that the MPs who defected to (eventually) form Change UK did so for a variety of reasons; some had a primary desire to create a new political party, some felt that the Remain case was not being put effectively, and that a new political entity was the only way this could be brought about, others simply wanted a bolt hole from endemic bullying and the dominance of extremist views in their old parties. There is nothing wrong in any of these motivations, though it does help explain why the group has fractured so quickly.
    There are rumours that 3 of the newly independent 6 are minded to apply to join the Lib Dems. Some may be cynical about their motives, but I would favour a generosity of spirit. I would urge, as I did on a previous thread, that we should ask them to stand down and fight by-elections in their seats, which would signal a fresh start for them, and a welcome publicity boost for the party.

  • Lorenzo Cherin wrote: “If those who hear a sound bite did research things might become , evidence first, comment next…”

    Sure. A bit of research on JFK. During the entire period of JFK’s Presidency, the United States had the compulsory military draft.

    Question: What happens if too many people opt for the non-military option?

    I recall a conversation I had during the 1980s with a spokesman for Dr David Owen called Harold Carter who, while insisting that Owen did not support conscription, advanced arguments in favour of conscription (ie, everyone has to be forced to do the dirty jobs). Owen’s proposals were watered down under intense opposition and ended up as a scheme similar to that which the Cameron government introduced (and which Johnson said should be compulsory). It was called “Count Us In”, and was promoted by Danny Finkelstein, then an Owen acolyte, who is now opposed to conscription. When Finkelstein rejected Umunna’s proposals he knew from direct experience what he was talking about. the moral of the story is fairly obvious, I think.

  • chris moore 5th Jun '19 - 2:25pm

    Lorenzo Cherin 5th Jun ’19 – 1:33pm
    Chuka has never wanted forced army service. His notion was a limited period of peaceful or military input, a task force similar to a home version of JFK with his Pace Corps, and an alternative., a favourite description from Chuka, to going straight to college.

    If this was intended to be voluntary service, then many youngsters do a gap year with some element of service already. That is their choice.

    If this was intended to be compulsory, I am strongly against it. Contemporaries of mine in Spain speak of their joy when compulsory national service (military or civilian) was finally, after years of opposition , abolished. They regarded it as an imposed waste of time at a critical point of their lives, when they had other much better things to do.

    There’s absolutely no evidence in Spain that this period of national service led to more constructive attitudes towards life or society ; if anything the reverse. Reminiscences of laddish behaviour together…

    So not a great idea. and an old one at that.

    I should add I believe in a very friendly welcome to any Tigger 2/ Change recruits, whether MPs or members And well done on your diplomatic work, Lorenzo, with potential new Lib Dem members.

  • Mr Cherin probably doesn’t realise that Mr Umunna wants his national service to be compulsory and at age 16. Maybe in his high level talks with Change UK he could persuade said Chuka to get rid of the compulsory bit and avoid chaos at the beginning of A level courses and the knock on effect with universities.

    JFK’s scheme was voluntary and for post graduates. Totally different.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Jun '19 - 4:14pm

    Sesenco

    I appreciate this story. I do not actually support the policy necessarily.

    Chris Moore

    I thank you for those sensible things you say as usually you do. I think the compulsory element is part of it, as with G Brown re sixth form or post sixteen, but the military bit is optional.

    David Raw

    I am in agreement, and as you know my favourite politician or one of, is JFK, my view is not that this policy is right, just that its not fair to paint Chuka as iliberal, if it adds a myth that he wants national compulsory military service, he doesn’t. I agree with you, but though I have been active in persuasion re Change UK coming over to us, the sarcasm is funny but unnecessary.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jun '19 - 4:38pm

    Sarah Wollaston MP was interviewed on BBC radio World at One today, 5/6/19.
    She is, of course, chair of the commons health and social care committee, which provides a seat on the Liaison Committee, which she chairs. She can therefore look forward to interviewing the next Prime Minister, whoever he or she is, with the procedural right to ask supplementary questions, unlike PMQ.
    https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/health-committee/
    (In Greater London the Mayor’s Question Time was farcical. I have not seen it recently.)
    The BBC interviewer asked a supplementary question about Change UK.
    If I have understood the answers correctly they had discussed their election prospects with frequent references to FPTP. Their euro-election results were discussed, without apparent references to the regional list PR election system.
    Sarah Wollaston said she had not been approached personally about joining the Liberal Democrats.
    If we do, or if we have before the PM programme today, we should not hold her previous membership of the Conservative party against her. There are plenty of good reasons for leaving the Tories, or for not remaining in that party. Health and social care for instance.
    She was elected as an MP in one of David Cameron’s experiments with democracy.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14001001
    She has belonged to fewer parties than the late Winston Spencer Churchill.
    Hopefully with us she would stay and be re-elected.

  • David Evershed 6th Jun '19 - 2:07am

    On Wednesday evening, Heidi Allen said on the Peston TV programme that she would not be joining the Lib Dems.

    She is apparently above party politics and tribalism.

    This has also been demonstrated by her moves between parties, ending up once more in The Independent Group.

  • Richard Kemp
    I think the IG founders would have seen an instant jump from one party to another existing one as a step too far. A period of ‘independence’ followed by reflection and then joining another party is politically safer. The vitriol hurled at them by both the Tories and Labour (by Emily Thornberry in particular) showed how tribal it has become. Michael Heseltine and Alistair Campbell’s recent experience shows how bad things are.
    I remember a Catholic priest once telling me that, if I lost my faith God would forgive me, but not if I became a Protestant.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Jun '19 - 8:46am

    Richard Underhill. Churchill only ever belonged to two political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals. He did however move between them on 3 or 4 occasions.

  • Neil Sandison 8th Jun '19 - 11:32am

    George Kendall .Spot on George softly ,softly is the best policy .Some of Change UK leadership does come with its own baggage but most of their members will be political virgins who will not know if they are social democrats ,liberals or one nation conservatives as they were when the SDP was formed .Our job will be to promote policy that is evidence based and underpinned by the preamble of our constitution .If they disagree with that policy then they really are not fellow travelers and are not likely to join or become active .

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jun '19 - 11:28am

    If Chuka Umunna intends to stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate at the next election, does that mean that he is now a Liberal Democrat MP?

  • OnceALibDem 9th Jun '19 - 11:42am

    ““Liberal” should not be a tribal shibboleth used to divide “Us” from “Them,” but a banner that many can march under.”

    Not really

    “There is a difference between us and {Labour and the Conservatives}. We’re Liberals, they aren’t”
    Charles Kennedy

    (Technically – at least assuming my local party don’t reject my application – I should change my username!)

  • Jayne Mansfield: “If Chuka Umunna intends to stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate at the next election, does that mean that he is now a Liberal Democrat MP?”
    Yes, I’ve been wondering this. It’s being reported in various places that he has announced he is to stand as the LD candidate in Streatham, but nowhere does it say he is a member of the party. If he has joined, this is a PR cock-up: we should have announced he had joined first, then he could have applied for selection in Streatham like anyone else. If he hasn’t joined and this is just him sounding off, someone should have a word with him, and we need to tell the press it’s not happening .

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jun ’19 – 11:28am………………If Chuka Umunna intends to stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate at the next election, does that mean that he is now a Liberal Democrat MP?…………………

    Chuka Umunna was given every advantage (look at his ‘preferment’) in the Labour party and saw himself as destined for ‘greatness’; that didn’t happen quickly enough for him and he became a big fish in the small pond of .’Change’ .That fizzled out and, lo and behold, the LibDems are his next stepping stone.

    Watch this space.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Jun '19 - 2:31pm

    Mick Taylor 6th Jun ’19 – 8:46am Sorry I did not respond sooner.
    Winston Spencer Churchill (not to be confused with a grandson of the same name) stood in the 1920s as an independent. He was elected for Epping Forest as a Constitutionalist. If your source is
    When I lived in Woodford Green (under 21) he was a Conservative, re-elected as an MP in 1959.
    Needing to get to work in The Strand ( a former beach in London) the road was closed for his funeral, so I crossed the road from the former Underground railway station of Strand to Leicester Square and walked the rest of the way.
    Please state your sources.
    I will apologise if your source is Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid Sussex.

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