Heidi Allen: I joined the Lib Dems to stop Brexit, heal the rifts and rebuild the UK

A very big welcome to Heidi Allen, our 19th MP.

Over on the Lib Dem website, she has written about why she took the decision to join, saying that Jo Swinson’s party was the only one in Britain offering to stop Brexit, heal the rifts in society and stop Brexit.

When I became an MP in 2015, I could never have imagined we would find ourselves in this position. Through the prudent and practical decisions taken during the coalition years, the economy was recovering and our country was on the up.

Coming from business, joining the Conservative Party seemed the logical thing to do. But two general elections and an EU referendum later, the landscape has shifted beyond all recognition.

In February 2019, I resigned from the Conservatives to sit as an Independent MP, because I recognised the Party had drifted irreversibly to the right and was more concerned with its own survival than the national interest.

The party had become utterly unrecognisable, uncompassionate and willing to wreck the economy and peace in Ireland by not just contemplating, but actively courting a No Deal Brexit.

The European Elections in May 2019 highlighted the need for MPs to work together in the national interest, putting aside party interests. Voters were crying out for a Remain Alliance to offer an alternative to the future portrayed by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

Believing that if you get the right people around a table anything is possible, I have always been comfortable with cross party working. So through the Summer and into the Autumn, as an independent broker, I have worked with the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Independents to build that Remain Alliance across England and Wales through the organisation I formed, Unite to Remain

Confident that good progress has now been made on building that Remain Alliance, I recognise that as with most things in life, I am stronger and more effective when I am part of a team.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know that the best way to serve my constituents and country is to join the Liberal Democrats.

Now is the time to stand shoulder to shoulder with, not just alongside, those I have collaborated and found shared values with.

Shifting to the extremes, the Conservatives and Labour have turned their backs on the liberal, progressive centre ground our country is crying out for. As we face the monumental task ahead of stopping a damaging Brexit, healing the rifts in society and rebuilding the UK, there is only one party with the honesty, energy and vision to do that – and that is the Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Jo Swinson.

My constituency is liberal and inclusive, bursting with innovation – I am so proud to represent it as its Member of Parliament. I have been bowled over by the support I have received from every corner of it.

My constituents know we are stronger in Europe and they demand better for their country. They know that although there is a terrifying amount of work ahead of us, together, we can build a fairer and more compassionate future for everyone.

I got into politics to make a difference by challenging the status quo.

So please help me, support me and join me in the Liberal Democrats – let’s do this.

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  • Richard Underhill. 8th Oct '19 - 9:09am

    We are not quite alone.
    We do have friends in Northern Ireland in the Alliance Party.
    Hopefully at some stage you will meet John Alderdice, who came to the Liberal Democrats when Paddy Ashdown was our leader, and Naomi Long, the Alliance’s current leader, who was elected as an MEP in 2019 for the whole of Northern Ireland by the Single Transferable Vote.

  • clive english 8th Oct '19 - 9:14am

    welcome aboard.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Oct '19 - 2:06pm

    Martin Frost

    The anti-Lib Dem campaign focus will return again to the Coalition’s introduction of tuition fees and welfare cuts.

    Yes, and it was a government that was five-sixths Conservative. Not a government that was 100% Liberal Democrat.

    Why is it that criticism of the Liberal Democrats continues under the assumption that everything the Coalition did is what a purely Liberal Democrat government would do?

    Is the assumption that a small party which forms just one-sixth of a coalition government can get the party which forms the other five-sixths to drop everything it stood for and instead pick up everything the small party wanted? Seems to be from what continues to be said about the Coalition. And that is assumed to be the case even if, as in 2010, there are not enough MPs in the second biggest party to be able to form an alternative coalition – so the small party is not able to say “if you don’t drop your policies and pick up ours, we’ll join the other party and form the alternative coalition”.

    I do blame the Liberal Democrats in part for this, because we should have made it absolutely clear that of course we could have only a minor influence as a party that was just a small part of a coalition with a much bigger party. We didn’t say that then and we haven’t done that now. Why not?

    If we had proportional representation, the Coalition would have been three-fifths Conservative and two-fifths Liberal Democrat, and a Labour-LibDem coalition would also have been viable, so could have competed with the two to form a coalition with whoever would give us more say. We;d have had hugely more influence on whatever coalition was formed. So why have our leaders and those responsible for the public image of our party never made that clear?

    I feel it would be hypocritical to support a multi-party system, but then to refuse to form the only viable coalition, which is why I, like most of our members, reluctantly accepted the Coalition.

    A coalition does involve compromise, agreeing to things that are not your ideal.

    Brexit shows what happens if there is no compromise, if everyone votes against everything that is not their ideal. It creates a mess, government gets stuck unable to do anything, and not doing anything can end up with something very few really wanted happening because that’s what happens if every suggested compromise gets voted down.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    I know it was a Tory led coalition and most voters appreciate that. It’s just that many people were surprised to see people like Jo Swinson voting to triple tuition fees, cut disability benefits and introducing the bedroom tax. If the LibDems attack the Tories for being the “nasty” party this will be thrown at your leader time and time again.

  • David Evans 8th Oct '19 - 3:59pm

    Matthew, You ask “Why is it that criticism of the Liberal Democrats continues under the assumption that everything the Coalition did is what a purely Liberal Democrat government would do?”

    Putting it simply, because Nick and all our senior figures supported the coalition government’s policies 100% in public and in private. None of our senior figures voted against anything, including illiberal rubbish like secret courts, every cut to benefits put forward by the Conservatives, Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit fiasco – etc. etc. etc.

    Sure they moaned a bit about the Go Home vans, but did they do anything about the hostile environment? Did they even say anything about it?

    I know many Lib Dems find it hard to come to terms with, but trust is what makes parties successful and our leaders sacrificed it time and time again in coalition. At the moment the one thing that is making some people trust us more is our remain stance. But that is the only thing. If Boris Johnson finds a way to get Brexit through, what is left for the Lib Dems? If Brexit is stopped (despite us refusing to support Jeremy Corbyn), again, what is left for the Lib Dems?

    Perhaps a core vote strategy that takes us back to where we were in the 1950s. Good, Liberal and totally irrelevant for 90% of the population. I doubt it.

    I hope our leaders have two plans in place one if we win and one if we lose over Brexit. I hope, but I don’t see anything that gives me lots of confidence.

  • Martin Frost 8th Oct '19 - 5:08pm

    I understand Matthew Huntbach’s frustration and he is right to criticise the leadership of the party for failing to put their time in Government to bed by admitting their mistakes.

    Firstly, the tuition fees promise was always unrealistic and an own goal.

    The welfare cuts on the other hand alienated those of us who still adhere to Keynesian principles as opposed to the Orange book economics promoted by Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, David Laws and co.

    I would say that the harsh years of austerity helped to consolidate the Brexit vote particularly in the North and may well have swung the UK referendum vote against Remain.

    In my view the Lib Dems in Government did not do enough to distance themselves from the nastier aspects of Tory doctrine. Indeed in the first 2 years of the Coalition it was difficult to tell the two parties apart at all.

    A Government without a majority can not govern. The size of the coalition partner that gives them their majority does not matter a jot.

    The Lib Dems could have blocked a great deal more than they did. Fear of an election being held on Cameron’s terms was no excuse and few wish to admit how ideologically close Nick Clegg and David Cameron actually were.

    The fact remains that if the next election takes place with us out of the EU, the Lib Dem’s relatively recent bubble of support could easily burst.

    A BBC commentator suggested some months ago that the Brexiteers will win in the end because they want Out to happen just that bit more than those who are fighting to Remain.

    It is now well understood that given a choice between a temporary Corbyn led Government with no power and crashing out of the EU, the Lib Dems will go for the latter option, which reinforces the point.

  • Andrew McCaig 8th Oct '19 - 9:18pm

    Few things :
    1) stop worrying about the coalition. For 99% of people who are not strong Labour supporters it is no longer an issue. They attack us with it in local elections and get nowhere (unlike before 2017)
    2) So long as we make sure that we do everything to stop Brexit we can, we will enjoy continued support from Remainers. It is like opposing closure of a local hospital. Noone really expects you to save it but they do expect you never to give up the fight.
    3) The big danger for is here is being believed to have failed to stop Brexit because of refusing to support Corbyn. This government of national unity is both a unicorn and a bear trap and we need to avoid it. Once the no deal Brexit is delayed there is no need for it, 2 VONCs and there is an election. One of the unicorns is that there is any chance of the current Parliament voting for a referendum. We have to hope that the next Parliament is properly hung, and then we will have to bite the bullet and support Corbyn for 6 months on a C&S basis until a referendum is delivered.

    4) If Brexit does happen, the “Party of Rejoin” will have a core vote of 20%. Many people now define their politics not as left and right but as pro and anti EU. Many people are only sticking with Labour because they think they are the only party that can get the MPs to stop Brexit. If Brexit happens we are now a credible Party again and our vote will not drain away (and there is plenty of polling evidence for this)

  • Alex Macfie 8th Oct '19 - 10:18pm

    Will people please STOP comparing our experience in coalition with that of the DUP (“expats”)? The comparison is not valid because (unlike the Lib Dems) the DUP does not compete for the same votes as the Tories. Its supposed ability to “force the government to back down” is nothing to do with self-belief or negotiating skills. It’s because the DUP is only concerned about UK government policy insofar as it affects Northern Ireland. As such it can easily be bought off. Yes, it can be expensive, but its demands have next to no effect on most UK government policy, most of which does not affect Northern Ireland at all. And because the DUP doesn’t compete for votes with the Tories, it can’t be shafted the way the Lib Dems were in the subsequent election. Confidence & Supply is the best deal for the DUP, which isn’t really interested in shaping UK government policy, so doesn’t particularly need or care about seats in the Cabinet. It would be the worst of both worlds for us however.

    Andrew McCaig: Helping Corbyn into No 10 is precisely the WORST thing the Lib Dems could do. We’d lose all our soft Tory voters at a stroke. We need to stick to our guns by saying no coalition with either Tories or Labour under their current leaders. My preference with a “properly hung” Parliament would be what Birgitte does in Borgen: join a government with Labour but excluding Corbyn and his chums.

  • The “Party of Rejoin” might be a lot harder sell than a “Party of Remain”. It may mean joining a United States of the European Union, agreeing to a EU Army and joining the Euro. It doesn’t really bother me, but a lot of people are very attached to the British pound. The Opposition MP’s should have sorted out a VONC months ago, because if Johnson submits an extension letter in the manner he’s implying, the EU will find it very difficult to agree. If the LibDems haven’t already got some tricks up their sleeve they better find a few quickly.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Oct '19 - 11:27pm


    It wasn’t just tuition fees; it was the NHS, welfare/disability cuts, the bedroom tax and secret courts…

    Er, yes, and so if it wasn’t for the tuition fees the government would have had to pay more money to support universities, and as you say, also more money to pay more for NHS, to avoid welfare/disability cuts etc. And you and most other people seem to think the Liberal Democrats could easily have forced the Conservatives to drop their main pledge to keep taxes down and instead force then to raise taxes to pay for all of this.

    So, you are proving my point – you believe that a party which is just one sixth of a coalition with no alternative coalition possible can force the party which is five-sixths to drop its main policy and agree to what the one-sixth party wants, therefore the LibDems are bad because they didn’t do that.

    Or perhaps what is happening here is that most people think that government spending and taxes are two entirely separate things, so a coalition of a party that wants things that require more government spending and one that wants to keep taxes low can easily do both.

    Actually, of course there is a way the Liberal Democrats could have kept their pledge to avoid tuition fees and do that without having to raise tax. Close down most universities, so that it wouldn’t cost that much to pay for the few that are left. Well, either that of have even bigger welfare/disability cuts in order to be able to pay for universities. Would people have thanked the LibDems if they’d done it that way?

    Regarding the DUP, it is much easier for a party which is small because it is concentrated in one small party of the country to get what it wants from a coalition. Did it cost government as much in tax increases to satisfy the DUP as it would to have really met what the LibDems in 2010? No, it didn’t cost that much to throw a bit of money just into Northern Ireland to satisfy the DUP.

  • Andrew McCaig 8th Oct '19 - 11:43pm

    The terms of joining the EU are a matter for negotiation between the applicant and the member states. Nothing is a priori specified and countries like Sweden have been allowed to avoid things they dont want like joining the Euro indefinitely. What the EU would or would not offer is speculation.

    I think Rejoin would only float the boat of about 25% of the population, but it is a large potential core vote.

    Alex Mcfie, polls show we are currently attracting about 3x more new voters from Labour than from the Tories. A C&S agreement with Labour to get a referendum is not a new coalition and if we are not prepared to do it, if the circumstances arise, then we will lose the half of our current vote for whom Brexit is of prime importance.

  • Andrew McCaig 8th Oct '19 - 11:53pm

    This is old and pointless ground, but the Tories were not insisting on us breaking the pledge and the reality is that the extra money given to the universities had to be borrowed. Only an accountancy sleight of hand (now coming home to roost) allowed the borrowing not to count in the deficit. We only pledged not to increase fees, not to get rid of, them (a manifesto commitment that could never survive coalition)

    It is true that the universities would not have enjoyed the bonanza of the new fees regime while everyone else was hit by austerity though.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Oct '19 - 11:54pm

    Martin Frost

    The Lib Dems could have blocked a great deal more than they did.

    Sure, but Brexit shows what happens when everything gets blocked. What ends up happening is the worst result because everything else got blocked.

    It was not just a matter of blocking raising tuition fees, it was also necessary to get support for raising taxes in order to be able to continue funding universities. So how could the party that was one-sixth of the coalition get the party which was five-sixths of it to vote for the opposite of its main pledge of keeping taxes down?

    The equivalent of what has resulted in no-deal Brexit would have been a vote against raising tuition fees and votes against what is needed to support what would be necessary as an alternative to find universities. Result: all universities having to close down because they had no money to fund them.

    As it happens, agreeing to tuition fee increases, and concentrating on getting what is in effect government borrowing to pay for them (as many who were loaned money for it will never pay it back) has enabled universities to boom. I have to be grateful for that, as a university lecturer. Had it not happened, its very likely I would have lost my job.

    As I said, however, I do blame the LibDem leadership for not making this clear. If they felt they couldn’t do it while in the Coalition, it should have been done immediately afterwards – make clear that a party which is one-sixth of the only coalition possible can have only a minor effect on it, and therefore the policies of the Coalition are a long way from what the one-sixth party would do if it were the six-sixths of government.

    Also, what needs to be said loudly and clearly is this: if you want the government to do something, taxes are needed to pay for it. Our country is getting into more and more of a mess because this is never said. So people think they can vote for a party that supports low tax and don’t seem to realise that must inevitably mean cuts in government services.

  • David Allen 8th Oct '19 - 11:57pm

    Posters all,

    Perhaps we should look harder at what determines “the fight in the dog”.

    Back in 1979, Jim Callaghan gratefully accepted the Lib-Lab pact with David Steel. Why have things changed since then?

    Well – First, step forward the Gang of Four, who turned the Alliance into a credible candidate for government, one which declared that its aim was to replace Labour as the alternative to the Tories. Next, step forward Lord Rennard, who made that threat credible in electoral terms, by targeting, and thereby winning a seriously challenging number of seats.

    A majority in the Labour party drew the lesson that they should never work with the Lib Dems again. They should not be allowed the chance to carry out their threat. Blair and Ashdown tried to make a partnership, but fearful tribalists said No. One route to power had closed off for the Lib Dems.

    Now, fast forward again to the classic Charles Kennedy remark, about the Orange Book, that Britain did not need three conservative parties. What is fascinating about that comment is that some key players drew the diametrically opposite conclusion. The risk that the Lib Dems might outflank Blairite Labour on the Left, and keep the world a little bit unsafe for rich hedgies, was quite serious. Funding the Orange Book was designed to put paid to that risk, and it did.

    So now we have the asymmetric situation that Labour are reluctant to work with the Lib Dems, but the Tories have shown themselves willing to lay on the ministerial limos when it suits them. What should the Lib Dems do? All too often, I fear, they growl at the Tories, but eventually settle for the Pedigree Chum. All too often, they talk nice to nice Labour politicians, but hide away from any meaningful collaboration with Labour.

    All of which is a big shame, when Cummings is about to flush Britain down his toilet.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Oct '19 - 12:16am

    Andrew McCaig

    This is old and pointless ground, but the Tories were not insisting on us breaking the pledge

    Oh sure. They probably would have been very happy to have met the LibDem’s pledge by massive cuts in the number of university places, thus not requiring so much to pay for them. They would have then said “Oh it was the LibDems that forced this on us, blame them”.

    The reality is that cuts in direct payment for universities from taxes meant more tax money available to be used elsewhere. So had it not happened, there would have had to be even bigger cuts in welfare, NHS, disability, pensions etc. Would that have been good?

    Only an accountancy sleight of hand (now coming home to roost) allowed the borrowing not to count in the deficit.

    Well, yes, exactly. So the LibDems managed to trick the Tories into agreeing to what was in reality a massive increase in government borrowing, just disguised as individual borrowing, in order to fund universities. Not ideal, but just maybe the best that could be achieved, given that there is no way the Tories could have been forced to raise tax.

    Personally I feel that universities should be funded by a big increase in inheritance tax. But I find that almost everyone who moans about the increase in tuition fees goes strangely silent when you try to suggest alternative ways of paying for universities like that.

    So we are left in a position where most people believe the cost of funding universities is simultaneously so small that it could easily be paid for by some form of taxation that it would affect hardly anyone, and so large that it wrecks the lives of everyone who goes to university and then has to pay back the tuition fee loans later.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Oct '19 - 1:29am

    When the Coalition greatly increased tuition fees, many said it would lead to a big drop in the number going to university as young people would refuse to want to pay for it. Supporters of it said that competition between universities over costs would lead to universities reducing costs, because applicants would choose the university that offered a place for the lowest fees.

    I said that neither of these things would happen. I said that young people are optimistic and the loan system meant they wouldn’t think much about the costs as actual money. I also said that actually they would always think the university with the highest fee had the best quality, so rather than the fee system giving a competition that would force prices down, it would result in all universities feeling they had to raise their fee prices to the maximum.

    So, who got it right? Me, or everyone else?

    See, this is me and politics. I get things right, and manage to do it in a way that people on both sides see me as a supporter of the other side. So I get attacked from both sides and what I say is ignored and assumed to be the opposite of what I really meant.

    Happening again here.

    Bye bye.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '19 - 7:08am

    Andrew McCaig: I wrote earlier that Confidence & Supply would give us the worst of both worlds. It would taint us by association with the governing party, while giving us virtually no real influence on government policy. We are not a single-issue party, we cannot just decide to support a government over Brexit and not worry about whatever else it is doing.
    Most of our target seats at the next election are Tory-held, and we need to win over soft Tory Remain voters to win them. They would not forgive us for propping up a Corbyn government. It is not straightforward to determine whose voters are going where from shifts in opinion polls. Voters shifting from the Tories to us could be being masked by voters shifting from Labour to the Tories (both presumably over Brexit). And voters who are moving over to us from Labour are principally concerned about Corbyn and his suitability as PM, and would not be happy for us to help him into No 10 either.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '19 - 8:38pm

    @expats: Well obviously, who is the Labour party leader is up to the Labour Party. No-one, and I mean no-one is suggesting that anyone could demand as a price for participation in government the replacement of a party leader. But dictating what the party, and by extension, the leader does? Of course Labour might have to allow this, as a price for participation in government. To take a real-life example, in 1940 Labour agreed to participate in the wartime coalition government, and its price was Neville Chamberlain’s resignation as PM. Labour did NOT demand he resign as Conservative Party leader, only as Prime Minister. So Chamberlain was replaced as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill, but remained Conservative Party leader.

    So there is no rule that the Prime Minister has to be a party leader. In our Parliamentary democracy, all that is needed is for the incoming Prime Minsiter to be able to command the support of a majority of MPs. Polling evidence suggests that the Lib Dems could win enough seats that, even as the junior coalition partner, they would have enough clout to dictate who becomes Prime Minister in the coalition. So for Labour, it could be either the PM is someone other than Corbyn, or Labour doesn’t get to participate in government.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Oct '19 - 6:57am

    expats: Hardly anyone anticipated the strong Lib Dem showing in the Euro election earlier this year. We can expect a lot more “ifs” and “coulds” to become reality in these turbulent political times.

  • If only those who post here were to devote their energy to research and devise attractive policies instead of raking over the past the party might stand a better chance. Stop bothering to reply to the trolls and they will get bored like most of their ilk.

  • Richard Underhill. 9th Nov '19 - 8:12pm

    Heidi Allen is featured in the Times colour settlement on Saturday 9/11/19, pages 50-56.

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