Change UK peacocking threatens to let jingoists and the far right run amok

As a lifelong active member of the Dutch party “Democrats 66” (D66), I know how difficult constitutional, structural and cultural improvements of state (and European) democracy can be. My party had both improving national democracy (example: direct election of the prime minister who would lead the formation of the post-election coalition government) and direct European elections in its 1966 founding manifesto,

As anybody consulting Wikipedia can read, D66 was founded by a coalition of both members of existing parties (including an orthodox Marxist one) and unaffiliated, new citizens who’d become concerned that Dutch politics was stagnating and becoming oligarchic. (From 1963 until 1967, there were three different coalition governments on the basis of the 1963 general election results).

So, I can sympathise with the pride of Chuka Umunna over assembling a similar British party (wanting to renew the existing party democracy, solidly pro-EU feeling; assembled from active party members and concerned unaffiliated citizens) in Change UK.

We entered the Dutch parliament in 1967 with a spectacular 7 seats (of 150) thanks to proportional voting, but struggled to be heard for years.

With the first European Elections in 1979, we tried to enter the European parliament (EP) outside the existing party groupings like the Socialists, because we refused “backroom deals” with other Dutch parties to have a better chance to get in. We wanted to reform European politics from within, but got exactly nowhere. Having failed in our profiling aim, we lost both EP seats in the 1984 EP elections. We re-entered in 1989 after joining ELDR/ALDE with the more Eurosceptic (and car-loving; we’re environmentalist) VVD Dutch liberals in it; and we went from strength to strength. One of our MEPs, Sophie in’t Veld is a British TV celebrity and EU politics analyst.

D66 is a Social-Liberal, pro-European party, so we abhor it when at decisive elections, like the upcoming European ones, excessive “political renewal” purism risks giving a free ride to Ann Widdecombe as one of Farage’s EP candidates, and foreign parties like Salvini’s Lega, and the Polish jingoist PiS, who in different European parliamentary groupings, totally share Brexiteering jingoism, reactionary social agendas (see LGTBI rights, female church pastors, abortion), and a love for Trump’s disruptive politics. They dearly want to trounce splintered groups of progressive, pro-European parties in their own countries, and to dominate a large share of the European parliament’s seats, key EP and EU jobs, and thus the EU political agenda (EuroCommission, EU Budget; foreign policy, environment). Even if it is only until Brexit in November.

Mr. Umunna and Change UK fear Electoral Commission investigations and punishments if they make deals about which of the Remain parties take the lead in certain regions. I advise him to read Paddy Ashdown’s memoirs: neither the sharing out of votes between the Liberals and SDP in the 1980’s, nor the Ashdown/Blair 1997 deal about sharing, and even letting non-affiliated BBC celebrities like Martin Bell oust sleaze-mired Tories like Neil Hamilton (see: ), ever resulted in big Electoral Commission punishments or scandals.

On the contrary: Scotland, London, Northern Ireland and Wales got devolved government, and despite Gordon Brown’s tribal resistance, Blair operated at the heart of Europe until in 2003 he followed Bush into Iraq. Two Grimondian liberal hobby horses fulfilled.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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16 Comments

  • Ben Williams 25th Apr '19 - 2:20pm

    Interesting article. However, the Electoral Commission’s mandate was created by PPERA in 2000 and it didn’t begin its regulatory role until 2001. Therefore it couldn’t police either the 1980s Alliance between Liberals and the SDP or the informal Ashdown/Blair deal-sharing.

  • Laurence Cox 25th Apr '19 - 2:38pm

    Bernard,

    As Mark Pack’s posting shows, ChangeUK are seeking to crush the LibDems not co-operate with them.

    https://www.markpack.org.uk/158404/leaked-change-uk-memo-sets-out-plan-for-crushing-not-cooperating-with-lib-dems/

  • Bernard Aris 25th Apr '19 - 3:09pm

    @ Laurence Cox

    First: ever heard of the mouse that roared? we have (from decades of existence; 30 years in fact) far more experienced campaigning people in every district, region or constituency than TIG ever will be able to assemble at such short notice; and our candidate screening is more experienced and more robust (2 TIG dropouts so far).
    At TIG people from diffferent parties will have to work together despite differences in culture or habits from their former p;arties.
    And how well-established is the online campaigning, webcare outfit at TIG compared to ours? ALDC has tons of well-tested, practical software and tricks at the ready, fit for every size of target groups; they have only what former cadres from other parties had left over from earlier campaigns.

    Second: Remaners are a caring lot (whereas Brexiteers are more prone to hate and think everybody is out to get them anyway, so let’s hit out first and ask questions later). So if TIG wil not (or cannot) deny the leaked memo is from them, we can say on the doorstep: “WE’ve got the experience, and we were willing to help and co-operatie; but they want to destroy part of the Remain electorate and parts of Remainers’ parties to profit themselves. Will you support egoistical destruction of soulmates?” I can guess the answer.
    Remember the Communists, at least up til the late 1930’s, saw the Social Democrats as their main enemy and went all-out (in a strictly disciplined way) to destroy them. Did they succeed?

    And I agree with Paul Barker: at this historic opportunity, TIG is only thinking “what’s in it for me?” That Neoliberal, Thatcherite egoism isn’t very attractive, once exposed. Their ambition (if it exists) in bringing the EU further doesn’t get more credible by mowing down their friends and former party colleagues; on the contrary..

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '19 - 3:27pm

    @ Bernard Aris,

    The far right has been “running amok” both in the UK and the EU long before Change UK came onto the scene.

    The imposition of austerity economics creates the perfect conditions for them. If you want that situation to continue or worsen then carry on as you are.

    On the other hand if you want to clip their wings, the EU needs to substantially relax the Govt deficit rules in the Stability and Growth Pact. In addition, it needs to scrap the even worse European Fiscal Compact completely.

  • Bernard Aris 25th Apr '19 - 3:42pm

    As I said before elswhere on LDV:

    if TIG manage to get parliamentary seats, their “go it alone” purism, and friendly attitude to other, existering Remain partiesitain will mean they have to accept the “Non Inscrit”, non-affilliated status of soloists.

    They’ll be without the facilites and staffing/equipment subsidies the European Parliaqment {EP} (and rich party groupings like ALDE, possibly soon to bejoined by Macron’s En Marche) can offer new member parties. if you want anything extra, you pay it, but you don’t get more speaking tie, or an earlier spot in a speakers queue in debates.

    They’ll get the midnight shift with speaking turns in debate {the EP doesn’t allow inteeeruptions while other MEP’s speak}, and then only for a couple of seconds. In the Commons people sometimes still listen at midnight; in Brussels and Straasbour, no-bo-dy.

    From my own D66 experience (1979-’84) : no one takes a blind bit of notice, even if you put it on your Facebook and Instagram. You won’t be making any news, ever.

    The only useful thing they’ll be able to do is voting. Your handfull of votes against dozens of Widdecombe votes from Britain. Wow what a SUCCESS RATE.

    And the people in the Eurosceptic, EU destroying party groups will be doing everything with all facilities; they blow anything you can do right out of the water. O what a joy it is to work at such odds…

  • Bernard Aris 25th Apr '19 - 3:48pm

    Serial Typo!

    “existering Remain partiesitain ”
    was meant to be : “existing parties in Britain”

    “speaking tie” was meant to be: “speaking time”.

  • Paul Barker 25th Apr '19 - 3:52pm

    Change are being stupid but I don’t see the need for another article pointing out their stupidity, Im not sure what this piece adds.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Apr '19 - 4:03pm

    It is a response to all those idiots who want to blame the Lib Dems for there not being a remain list, when clearly the overtures we made to Change were not only rebuffed, but they had a (now not so) secret agenda to destroy the Lib Dems.
    You can’t make deals with people like that. Anyway, as mentioned elsewhere on LDV nominations are closed. Now we have to forget about Change and get stuck in to winning votes for our party with an unashamed pitch for the anti Brexit vote. Liberal Democrats – to stop Brexit.

  • LDV has printed more articles/posts about destroying the Labour party and becoming the ‘real’ opposition party than I can remember.
    However, let anyone suggest doing the same to this party then suddenly it’s ‘not fair’ and it’s ‘nasty’ and warrants umpteen threads saying so.

    For heaven’s sake stop being so ‘precious’; it’s called politics!

  • expats 26th Apr ’19 – 8:51am
    LDV has printed more articles/posts about destroying the Labour party and becoming the ‘real’ opposition party than I can remember.
    However, let anyone suggest doing the same to this party then suddenly it’s ‘not fair’ and it’s ‘nasty’ and warrants umpteen threads saying so.
    For heaven’s sake stop being so ‘precious’; it’s called politics!

    It’s not a question of being “unfair” or “nasty”. Most of the comment on here has been of regret that Change UK are being unrealistic and also unambitious. Supplanting the Lib Dems is highly unlikely for the many reasons given before. And if they did, so what?

    If they want to work with other parties, which they’d have, if they really want political change, they’re going to have to be less duplicitous.

    But at the moment they are still cocooned in a bubble of hype and entitlement. Some mediocre electoral results will help to puncture that.

    g

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '19 - 12:18pm

    Over on Change UK’s twitter page this:

    Our Brexit spokesperson @Anna_Soubry and Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, call on the government for a joint Change UK & LibDem led Opposition Day debate, which we would use to debate a People’s Vote.

    Timed at 12 hours ago.

    What are we doing helping them paint themselves as co-operating with other Parties when each hour they are engaged in their plan to eliminate us?

  • Mick Taylor 26th Apr '19 - 2:44pm

    As I have said elsewhere on LDV, I am not in the least surprised at the (now not so secret) plans of ChangeUK to try and destroy us. After all they all came from parties who have had this as an objective for years.
    What does seriously annoy me is the people who come on LDV and denounce us for not making agreements or running joint lists, when it is absolutely clear that the obstructionists are in Change UK and not the Lib Dems.
    Given their current stance, we have no choice but to put our case as strongly as possible and to stress our stop Brexit credentials (as well as our support for radical change both at home and abroad). If Social Media is to be believed, Labour intend to fight the upcoming EU elections on a platform of completing Brexit. This, I believe, gives the LibDems an opportunity to gain substantial numbers of votes from Labour remainers. It is apparent that this is already happening in London and the SE, but we have to make sure we reach out to remainers and encourage them to back us to stop Brexit.

  • Bernard Aris 27th Apr '19 - 6:11pm

    The present Labour massive dust-up about NOT mentioning the Second Referendum on their election folder means unwelcome double expenses on that item, as well as what we saw on Nesnight last night:
    *) a grumpy old Brexiteer Labour MP from the North of England, and
    *) a feisty woman Labor MP
    arguing if Brexit or a Referendum is officcial Labour Policy. The Labour Split and duplicity exposed for all to see.

    And a self-confidant Vince Cable fielding hostile, belittling BBC questions about our raison d’etre…

    And tomorow morning (at 9 O’CLOCK) Jo Swinson on Andrew Marr.

  • @Bill le Breton

    I have a great deal of sympathy with your view on CHUK. While I was relatively open to co-operation with them, I now think that it is probably best that they are “strangled at birth” sadly and not because they have been nasty to us but it looks as if it will be something of a Zombie party limping on – may be getting a few percent at the next General Election but no seats outside of a remote possibility in the founders seats.

    But… it is a fact of life and maths that you have to co-operate in Parliament and we are co-operating on Europe with people we have quite significant disagreements with in other areas – Remainer Tories, SNP etc. and sometimes it helps if the minor parties do as the Commons is set up to be very much against them.

    I thought that Vince had a grown-up attitude at our Euro launch yesterday.

  • Innocent Bystander 27th Apr '19 - 9:02pm

    Change will all vanish at the next general. There is no need for the LibDems to worry that they will usurp the LibDem’s (handful) of voters.
    They have, however, done irreparable damage to the concept of centre ground politics by their impulsive, leaderless, policy less and comical amateurish approach.

  • Richard Underhill 27th May '19 - 11:40am

    Change UK is not the SDP. Their priority must surely be to defend the Commons seats of the various MPs who founded the Independent Group. Anna Soubry’s position has not changed and she is keen to say so publicly.
    Former Labour MPs have been less outspoken in public, but realistically must have a similar problem, although at their first press conference the first MP out of the blocks made her case for leaving the Labour Party, very strongly, on Labour’s problems with anti-Semitism.
    Apart from opposition to Brexit they do not seem to have another policy that unites them. If they recruit members that diversity will probably increase. Apart from the parliamentary seats they currently hold it may be difficult to find places in which Liberals Democrats will want to stand down in a parliamentary election.
    That was not the situation with the SDP. In 1983 Liberal MPs generally held their seats. Roy Jenkins held his bye-election win in Glasgow Hillhead and Charles Kennedy gained a seat in the Scottish Highlands, while commenting that David Owen had not even heard of this winning candidate. The SDP did add many votes across the board leading to Labour losing deposits massively.

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