Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry write: The Independent Group and the Lib Dems working together is grown up politics

Today one of The Independent Group of MPs (TIG), Anna Soubry, will be speaking at a fringe event organised by IPPR North at the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference.  Inevitably, the Westminster village will ask why and speculate as to what this means.  But outside of Westminster, the idea that people who share similar values and have common views on things should work together is not news, its common sense.

There is no doubt that our politics is broken and needs fundamental change. We have a Government and an Official Opposition who are deeply divided, have failed to provide coherent leadership and to discharge their duties with the competence the British public are entitled to expect.  All public opinion research shows millions of politically homeless people are crying out for an alternative and something new – we left the main parties to create one.

A key facet of the culture of TIG is that we are non tribal – we share the same progressive values but we hail from different political traditions.  The fact people come from different political backgrounds should not preclude anyone working with others where there is agreement.  It is this belief that paved the way for the formation of our group and it is precisely why we had all worked with Liberal Democrat MPs long before our group formed on a number of issues, especially on Brexit, and will continue to do so. This is made easier by the fact that, unlike the main parties, the Lib Dems have not been taken over by parties within parties promoting the extremes of left or right.

In this sense, it should come as no surprise that at this time – when Brexit is the dominant issue facing our nation – our Brexit spokesperson should be speaking on a platform with Jo Swinson, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. We were delighted to have the full support of all Lib Dem MPs for Sarah Wollaston’s cross party Peoples Vote amendment which was voted on in the House of Commons last night.

Brexit is, of course, not the only issue where there is common ground.  Recently Jo spoke in the Commons debate instigated by TIG’s Mike Gapes to highlight human rights abuses by the Venezulan regime against their own people.  Luciana Berger and Norman Lamb have been working together for many months on mental health issues.  Chuka Umunna set up and chaired the APPG on Proportional Representation in the last parliament and his Early Day Motion calling for PR was signed by Lib Dem MPs Alistair Carmichael and Tom Brake.  All our members have strongly supported Jo’s campaign to introduce proxy voting in the Commons for MPs on parental leave – Luciana is currently taking advantage of this reform! These are just a few examples.

Does this mean we are forming an electoral pact or alliance?  No – TIG is not yet a party – but it is grown up politics.  It is clear our politics is broken and, in building an alternative, it is incumbent on all of us to leave the tribalism behind and work to put in place a different kind of politics that does justice to our country.  We will work with anyone who shares our values in reaching this goal and Anna is looking forward to discussing this with Jo and Lib Dem activists today in York.

* Chuka Umunna is the spokesperson of The Independent Group of MPs (TIG) and Member of Parliament for Streatham. Anna Soubry is the Brexit lead for TIG and the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe.

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37 Comments

  • I’ll work with anyone to get PR implemented, but to be clear, anyone who doesn’t think the Iraq war was a mistake, wants to bring back National Service and thinks it is the “first duty of government” to do “whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security” does NOT share my values.

  • I’ve read your pamphlet, folks. We do not share similar views and common values. I am a liberal, not a moderate or a centrist. You are authoritarians. We are never going to be on the same page because your instincts are so very different from mine.

    Sorry.

  • What are your values though? Your group also includes Joan Ryan, who was at the front of the Labour party No to AV movement. I can see no way that we could have any kind of electoral deal with someone who holds those values.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Mar '19 - 10:40am

    Anna Soubry was asked whether they would be joining the Liberal Democrats and said
    “No! they must come to US” which seemed like tribalism.
    I am reminded of the Lib Dem policy after the 1997 general election (Won by New Labour by a large majority) “We will work with Labour where we agree and oppose them where we disagree”.
    In their first term the Blair-Brown government was dealing with what Peter Mandleson called “low hanging fruit” and missed their opportunity to do more while trying to ensure re-election.

  • James Baillie 15th Mar '19 - 10:53am

    “Does this mean we are forming an electoral pact or alliance? No.”

    Good!

    I think the “shared values” rhetoric is often overblown between the Lib Dems and TIG – it appears, to me, that what TIG want is a true Blair-era styled centrist party, complete with a degree of opposition to immigration, an unclear position on electoral reform (Chuka may be in favour of it, but has No2AV campaign leader Joan Ryan changed her tune?) and illiberal authoritarian measures such as national service.

    This of course doesn’t mean we can’t vote together at a parliamentary level where our interests align, and the cases mentioned by Chuka and Anna above are very welcome. As they say, that’s not news, it’s common sense. As Lib Dems, though, a huge part of our raison d’etre is to champion liberal values, and TIG don’t seem to be interested in that specific mission – though perhaps some of their members who incline more that way may eventually find themselves more at home within our ranks, who knows?

  • Our values clearly have areas where we align and areas which are trickier.

    But in our weakness and under FPTP we will wipe each other out if we compete against each other in an ever-increasing purity contest. We need to work together out of necessity and survival instinct. I would be open to agreeing not to oppose each other in held seats and key targets as a first step to build up trust.

    The Conservatives and Labour would love nothing more than seeing us argue with each other and destroy each other.

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '19 - 11:24am

    “There is no doubt that our politics is broken and needs fundamental change. … All public opinion research shows millions of politically homeless people are crying out for an alternative and something new – we left the main parties to create one.”
    Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Lib Dems! 🙁

  • Neil Sandison 15th Mar '19 - 11:24am

    No they may not run with every jot or tickle of liberal democracy but have our own leaders in recent years done that ? . The word “values “is over subscribed .i prefer the words principles and common goals and shared outcomes .Genuine PR to allow diversity of candidates and political parties is in our DNA. forming alliances across political parties on key issues and holding the executive to real account ,breaking down the power of the whips and making MPs real representatives not just lobby fodder would be on my bucket list.

  • This is a fascinating debate. I regard myself as a Liberal Democrat, therefore believe in free speech, real equality, internationalism, openness and being prepared to listen to other views.

    I think it is great that we will have Anna Soubry at our conference. Being incapacitated at the moment, I have watched the debates in the House this week.

    Listening to those from different parties speak out about the closed minds of some in government; the mysogeny of others and the inability of some Members of Parliament to acknowledge the 16.1 million of those who voted Remain. I want to hear from those with whom we can work.

    Otherwise, we become like the ERG, who only value their own perspective, or like Labour’s front bench, still fixated by the past.

    Let’s listen, debate, agree to disagree and agree to agree, where we can work together.

  • I don’t see a whole lot in common with TIG. They’ve proven themselves more than willing to step on our toes, and have put forward policy ideas that could almost be designed to fly in the face of liberal values. The fact that a number of TIG members are pro-FPTP alone makes working with them suspect.

  • Arnold Kiel 15th Mar '19 - 1:04pm

    I see you and your TIG-partners as an interesting, not only electorally attractive, and well-intended group of people worth teaming up with. This should center around policies, to avoid the bordering on abuse overstretched formulation “shared values” (AV is not a value-question). If you obey the law and strive to act in the interest of the British people, that is a good enough starting point for me.

    As a LibDem member, coming from the continental European angle of liberalism, which differs somewhat from the British one, I would advise us not to overemphasise labels. I am, e.g. fully with Anna regarding the budget cuts 2010-15; they were, IMO, the right, and a liberal thing to do. Besides, liberal was always a niche-offering for the independent thinker, to propose a clumsy bridge.

    Undoubtedly, the Conservatives have given up conserving anything, including their power, and Labour’s front bench is complicit in the biggest labour-destruction exercise any democratic society has ever undertaken in peacetime. So the label of your provenance also doesn’t mean much anymore.

    Let us just get to work to fix this deranged country.

  • Paul Barker 15th Mar '19 - 1:05pm

    Lots of us are too young to remember the SDP/Liberal Alliance so I would recommend looking it up, in particular how quickly it transformed British Politics, how close it came to breaking the mould & how it took a Bloody War to stop it.
    The little evidence we have so far suggests that a new Alliance between Us, whatever TIG becomes ( &, hopefully, The Greens) could be even more transformative. An average of the handful of Polls so far give Us 9% on average, TIG 10% & The Greens 4%, that adds up to 23% before anything concrete has happened. The Alliance added 15% to its average support in the first 3 Months of its existence, just think of the potential for a new Alliance.
    This is all jumping the gun of course, TIG aren’t even a Party yet.
    The best thing we can do for now is win lots of Seats in May & look for areas of agreement. The worst thing we could do is refight old battles & look for where we disagree.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Mar '19 - 1:46pm

    Are supposed liberals, not ware the most illiberal thing is to quickly and regularly have closed minds.

    Do they normally react within this party or out of it, with clinging to a label as if a word or a statement made glibly, did justice to a whole person?

    I see friends in all parties.

    Bright Blue and the Tory Reform group are more keen on the classical and social liberalism that is to do with freedom of conscience and expression, than armies of progressive left wing supposed liberals, particularly in the US, recently in the UK.

    Liberalism is about understanding or it is nothing. It is not about empathy with any and everybody, but relating to others while promoting individuality.

    There are amongst the Independent Group, people who could fit with all parties within the mainstream, it is sad that some in this party do not really like mainstream agendas but love the fringe.

    Little wonder the two main parties succeed when the centre ground is as strong their as here, even there when populated by extremists too.

  • If we are a serious political party we have to seize opportunites and abandon being pedantic. It all but worked in 82 & 83, and even through to 86. We are not the Goose that laid the golden egg, we cannot make a breakthgrough even when the two main parties are so poorly thought of. Dare I say it, let’s get real.

  • OnceALibDem 15th Mar '19 - 3:25pm

    What Jennie said. The rush to embrace the TiGers is (another) symptom of the drift of the party from the one I used to be active for.

    I don’t think enough people understand what his happening.

  • Chukka, You were ‘fast tracked’ through the Labour ranks and yet, in an ‘exclusive’ to the Guardian, you say you were never comfortable in that party.
    As far as I’m concerned you aspired to the leadership of the party you felt so uncomfortable with and, since not being selected, have taken every opportunity to disparage the party that worked hard for you.

  • Bill le Breton 15th Mar '19 - 3:45pm

    What Jennie tweeted this morning about the first lesson from watching Dracula movies.

  • Ian M Cooke 15th Mar '19 - 3:51pm

    At this time I would have thought it essential that LibDems and TIG be considering how they can appear as a grouping in European Elections, rapidly select candidates, and have a campaigning platform and European Manifesto which the dis-enfranchised 16.2million can back to send Fagarge and his mob packing!

  • John Marriott 15th Mar '19 - 3:53pm

    @Jennie
    I’m really sad to read your post. I’m afraid that it’s attitudes like yours that keep the Lib Dems bumping around the bottom of opinion polls. There is only so much room in the political spectrum so working together with any like minded group has got to make sense. You should be careful how you use the pronoun ‘we’. You might be in an even smaller minority than the Lib Dems.

  • Sorry but some of the TIG members have too much of the David Owen about them. Potentially I can see this ending up disastrous for the Lib Dems.

  • Matt (bristol) 15th Mar '19 - 9:46pm

    Whilst TIG is a group, not a party, I would be broadly in favour of local Lib Dem parties having discretion about whether to challenge them or not, and not being obliged to oppose them. But that’s as far as I’d go right now.

    I hope TIG will grow into the missing link in British politics – a moderate centrist party that isn’t the Lib Dems and isn’t towing either the Labour left or the Tory right along with it. If it wasn’t centralising as well as centrist, and I wasn’t feeling very LIbDemmy that week, I might occasionally vote for it.

    But even given that there is more than one kind of liberalism, I’m still not entirely convinced its sufficiently liberal (and most importantly for me, not sufficiently democratic) for partnership with us lot to be sustainable longterm.

    It still whiffs of a result by legislators against the legislated.

  • Andrew Carey 15th Mar '19 - 9:54pm

    A grouping that supports membership of an organisation whose primary fiscal purpose is subsidies to owners of qualifying land. Which then erects a Customs Union featuring quotas and tariffs primarily to protect the recipients of the previously mentioned hand outs from competition. Which imposes a ban on GMOs which stops the recipients of the previously mentioned hand outs from being more productive, which means the chance to take land out of agriculture and use it for something else ( forestry, wilderness, leisure, whatever the market likes ) has been foregone.
    No thanks.
    I bet some of the TIGers would know that the CAP is the biggest budget item. I bet none of them could name a paper showing it delivers net positives compared to the two alternatives of none at all and devolution to member states.
    And further more I bet none of the TIGers could name the EU’s second biggest expenditure without looking it up. Don’t get me started on that one.
    They’re about as progressive as my rear hole.

  • Agree with all of this. Looking at TIG’s statement of values I find it hard to disagree with any of it. Some of it is motherhood and apple pie but there are some statements that you would not expect those in charge of the Conservatives or Labour to agree with, so a great start IMO. Given our huge similarities I would expect and hope that TIG and the Liberal Democrats come to some sort of arrangement whereby we don’t stand against each other in held seats. Beyond that I wouldn’t go any further for now though – I can’t see us standing aside for TIG in by-elections for example.

  • Christopher Durant 16th Mar '19 - 8:39am

    There a only a few things which a potential governing party must be able to demonstrate: their ability to run the economy; their ability to maintain law and order; their ability to defend the realm. Sadly none of these important issues is given a mention in your proposals, nor are they considered by your potential supporters. You do all agree on one thing though, namely that it is a good idea to assign all our important decision making to the unelected bureaucracy that is the EU. Good luck, you’re going to need it.

  • Roger Billins 16th Mar '19 - 12:59pm

    I seriously despair of so many tribal Liberal Democrat’s. They are like the exclusive Plymouth Brethren, scared of being infected by outsiders. If we followed your path, we would have one or two seats and never have power. The success of Labour and Conservatives has been that they have been broad coalitions. That is collapsing now and we have the opportunity to work with TIG and we should grasp it with both hands. If our party, whose predecessor I joined in 1974, ever became controlled by our equivalent of Momentum or ERG, I would be off to TIG !

  • In my view there is no ‘normal’ politics until the shambles that is Westminster is broken and reformed for for a modern era. The Tories and Labour won’t do that, entirely for self interest (while pretending that FPTP gives us stable government – HA!!).

    The last alliance nearly broke through but failed because the SDP (usually social conservatives) and the old Liberal party were too far apart and didn’t press reform. The SDP always waited for a ‘surge’ (Lab/Con style) and esp finally at first didn’t like the work of community politics either.

    Today, it might just be different, in that people in every part of the U.K. have now seen Westminster’s shameful failure …today we hear of a Tory MP facing deselection from his seat for following the government whip! IF the purpose of any working with TIGs is Reform, then go for it, and then we can have a centre party, liberal party, greens too all balancing the process of debate in a chamber where every MP has a seat, the herring of sheep through lobbiesnis replaces with push button votes and something. like modern English is used. I like the 80s we can ev b see how that might look – Holyrood.

    If we don’t do this, then I shall die having never, ever voted for a government of my own choice. And my vote, cast always in a Labour held ‘safe sea’ will never once have counted for anything.

  • Paul Barker 16th Mar '19 - 7:54pm

    Right now we are wavering 10% in The Polls that don’t ask about TIG; we have been improving steadily over the last 20 Months.
    If TIG disappeared tomorrow (they won’t) & our improvement continued at the same rate we could be challenging for top place in a decade, assuming nothing intervenes.
    If we, TIG & The Greens agree to work together then we could be challenging for top place by the Autumn. The SDP/Liberal Alliance came close to breaking the cosy Labservative stitch-up. It took a War to stop them.
    Both Labour & Tories are weaker now, we can break the system if we have the courage to open our arms to people who dont agree with us about everything.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Mar '19 - 10:56pm

    Paul Barker
    Your starry-eyed optimism continues to enthrall and entertain. If I remember your confident predictions of six or seven years ago, the Labour Party should have split apart and collapsed completely by now (please don’t tell me that a handful of Tiggers meets that prediction!) and the Lib Dems should be the main opposition to the Tories – not struggling to hold on to third place in the polls and fourth place in parliament.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Mar '19 - 1:16pm

    I welcome the list of issues on which we share a common ground. I am sure the electorate and media will welcome signs that we will work closely together and possibly merge. Any possibility of a credible alternative to the two established parties must be welcomed by all those who wish for a better government of these islands.

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