Heidi Allen reveals she offered to quit as Change UK Leader over tactical voting row

Heidi Allen gave an extraordinary interview to Channel 4 news tonight. 

You normally use your eve of poll interviews to talk up your own party. Instead, she told of a split within the group over recommending tactical voting to maximise Remain support. Allen wanted the party to endorse the Liberal Democrats outside London and the South East.

You have to wonder if the majority who were against it were the same people who blocked a Remain alliance in the European election.

From the New Statesman:

Allen believes the party should encourage Remain voters to back the Liberal Democrats outside of London and South East, where Change UK are polling strongest and thus stand the best chance of picking up MEPs.

Her fear, shared by Sarah Wollaston, is that Change lacks the requisite support to win seats elsewhere and could instead act as a spoiler. She warns: “Putting all the votes in one direction doesn’t always necessarily create the result that you want. If the next party further down in the polls isn’t still big enough to win a seat, you can end up, if you’re not careful, giving more votes to the Brexit parties.”

In private, she has always been clear that her strong preference is for cooperation with the Lib Dems. Earlier this week she even admitted that there was every chance that Change might not exist in its current form by the time of the next election. On the basis of current polling it is difficult to disagree. The party will be lucky to return a single MEP to Brussels and, faced with a Liberal Democrat revival none of its leading lights had anticipated, has failed to make serious electoral headway. As Allen herself says, it is a “really, really difficult time”.

Allen’s mother grew up in Germany as Hitler rose to power. She had stories about how people revered him because he promised all sorts and she clearly sees parallels with populist parties and people today. She clearly feels a sense of duty to stand up to the populists with what she called calm and moderate politics.

Allen is right to be concerned. The only thing she has wrong in her approach to tactical voting is that, actually, people in London and the South East should back the Lib Dems to stop Brexit because we are polling way ahead of other Remain parties.


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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ashley Pragnell 22nd May '19 - 10:27pm

    I believe Change UK have completely misjudged the strength of the Lib Dems. Our strength in membership, plus 259.000 supporters, plus 1000 branches, and active campaigners.
    Heidi Allen should as soon as the European elections are over, should start negotiating a deal with the Lib Dems.
    If a G E was called they would fall flat. But the Lib Dems are ready for the election when it comes.
    Allen with Lib Dem help would most likely hold her seat. We already run South West Cambridgeshire council.

  • Allen’s earlier radio interview was a lot cooler toward the LDs than this article suggests.

  • I’ve never felt so disillusioned as I do at present. I only hope that a centrist party which has social fairness at its core but the ability to run the country in an economically sound way also emerges from the abyss. There are enough labour, lib dems and tories around to achieve this but they need to mobilise themselves now – Britain needs you

  • David Evershed 22nd May '19 - 11:25pm

    Lib Dems are Change UK’s biggest enemy according to Change UK’s strategy paper.

  • Roland Postle 22nd May '19 - 11:32pm

    RemainVoter.com is recommending CUK in London, because by that YouGov poll they’re closer to in absolute vote terms to the next Remain seat and other Remain parties can ‘afford’ to lose some vote without losing a seat. (Their methodology assumes votes transfer from other parties to the suggested tactical party in proportion to a survey they’ve apparently done which is a bit opaque but eg. assumes Remain voters are more likely to switch between Remain parties than to a Leave party).

    The easiest way to challenge it is to point to our forward momentum and CUK’s backward momentum and that they’d need to fully double their polled vote to get a seat. It’ much more likely we get 25% more votes than polled to get to 3 seats than it is CUK gets 100% more votes to get to 1 seat.

    The cynic in me thinks ChangeUK MPs in favour of tactical voting just desperately want to signal they’re genuinely doing something differently. That interview does come across as refreshingly honest though, it must be said. I wonder what they’ll all do on Monday.

  • Richard Elliott 22nd May '19 - 11:54pm

    I admire Heidi – an excellent MP with courage, passion and integrity. While I will be voting Lib Dem, Change UK can play a vital part in what is a long haul back to sensible politics. They have a different identity and can potentially offer a home to moderates fleeing the Tories. I would urge all the remain parties to work together on selected areas of joint policy and selected electoral packs to maximise the vote. My goals are still alive – remain and an end to Tory Govt for a generation.

  • Bill le Breton 22nd May '19 - 11:57pm

    Roland Postle,

    “RemainVoter.com is recommending CUK in London, because by that YouGov poll they’re closer to in absolute vote terms to the next Remain seat and other Remain parties can ‘afford’ to lose some vote without losing a seat.”

    Where is their working out of this?

    As you can see from the workings above, at the margin where the 8th MEP is selected, Labour gets it in front of a LD with Change UK a long way behind our chances and even the Green’s chances.

    Of course it is all about people who want a remain party to win opting for a second remain party in a better position to win that last seat than their ‘first choice’. In the case for London it is the Lib Dems.

    Change UK don’t need 100% more votes to get that 8th MEP, they need just over 50%. We need to get 16% more.

    But actually **** it is a two horse race******* for the last MEP to be selected.

    Their advice MUST be rebutted.

  • The Guardian has asked its columnists to say how they intend to vote. There’s the usual disappointingly pro-Labour partisans, but it is pleasing that their best writer, Rafael Behr, gets it right. And I like his language too…. “It seems to me there is a benefit in boosting the overall vote share of the one [party] that can light the highest national beacon for the pro-European cause; to line up behind the battalion that has most conspicuously waved an anti-Brexit standard. That role, judging by polls, local election results and the Euro campaign thus far, has been fulfilled by the Liberal Democrats.”

  • Bill le Breton 23rd May '19 - 7:38am

    TonyH – that is a very helpful and politically wise statement by Behr.

    There are good tactical reasons in many regions/nations to vote Lib Dem. Behr’s is a strategic point about voting Lib Dem everywhere.

    Yes we should be making the point about a strategic vote (as well as a tactical vote).

    The vital question facing the countries of the UK is who can stop Farage in the big elections and plebiscites to come. That is the Liberal Democrats.

    Most Tories have decamped to Brexit and most won’t go back in the next General Election and in any plebiscite over EU membership. Labour has lost its old working class vote in mounting numbers since 2005.

    The strongest future challenger to Farage is the Lib Dems.

    If you have yet to read what Farage is presently building as a system and an approach and as potential alliances please please please spare 5 mins to read


    Psychologically we have to understand that the way we fought elections, the type of opponent we have, the role we have have all changed since Farage went to Milan.

  • I’d be amazed if Change UK carry on after this election. There simply isn’t room in our political system to accommodate them and surely MPs like Allen will want to try and hang on to their seats by getting behind a credible political force.

  • John Marriott 23rd May '19 - 8:12am

    Interesting that most of the glitterati, who intend to desert their normal parties, Heseltine, Parris, Callow, Cashman, to name just a few, appear to be preferring the Lib Dems to Change UK and Green.

    You can ignore the Guardian, where people like Toynbee, Williams and Jones are just too wedded to the Labour Party. In fact, as a regular reader, I’m getting a bit tired of its continued faith in what is turning out, under Corbyn, to look more and more like a busted flush. But let me make it perfectly clear….. some hope of that!

  • Mick Taylor 23rd May '19 - 8:39am

    John Marriott. Mt wife and I abandoned the Guardian once it started telling lies about LidDems in government. We took the I for a bit but then it started telling porkies as well. So now we don’t take a paper at all. In fact you can’t find any section of the media that tells the truth about the EU or the Lib Dems and that sadly includes the BBC, which has become the mouthpiece for Brexit. Once this is all out of the way the party is going to have to consider the future of the BBC and how to turn it back into the impartial news organisation it once was. It really comes to something when Sky News gives fairer reporting about the EU than the BBC.

  • John Bicknell 23rd May '19 - 8:46am

    It is not hard to envisage Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston applying to join the Lib Dems some time in the forthcoming months; their political positions are closer to Liberalism than in the case of their party colleagues, and the results from today’s elections will signal the end for CUK as a credible force. I hope they get a sympathetic welcome, though I would be pleased if the Lib Dems insisted that they resign their seats and fought by elections; this would emphasise that it was a fresh start, would take the wind out of the sails of critics who would accuse them of just looking for a convenient political liferaft, and, given the rising Lib Dem vote in South Cambridgeshire, and the residual, historic Liberal vote in Totnes, would be eminently winnable contests.

  • Bill le Breton 23rd May '19 - 9:40am

    I am sure Sarah Wollaston would be welcomed. But remembering Emma Nicholson whom Wollaston most resembles is a cautionary tale.

    Lady Nicholson joined us from the Tories in 1995. The Party leader gave her a life peerage in 1997 and she climbed into the European Parliament via our first ‘list’ in 1999 where she continued to represent us until 2009.

    As Wiki reminds us, “She resigned the Liberal Democrat whip in July 2016, to sit as a non-affiliated member. However, on 10 September 2016 she announced she was re-joining the Conservative Party “with tremendous pleasure” and would sit on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords. Listing her reasons for rejoining the Tories, she highlighted Theresa May’s education speech on 9 September as evidence that the prime minister “leads a party with a real commitment to delivering for the next generation and building a country that works for everyone”

    Emma Nicholson was an outstanding person but the Party gave her so much which really she chose to rat on when the going got tough.

  • John Marriott 23rd May '19 - 9:53am

    Heidi Allen used to run a pub near Cambridge. In fact I bumped into her (literally) as I was leaving it a couple of years ago when I was attending a college reunion. With that kind of CV she might be useful at Conference time to source some cheap beer (or Pinot Grigio).

    As for Emma Nicholson, she was in the news recently regarding that badly burned Iraqi boy, who after over 30 years had found his mother. She and her late husband more or less adopted him and brought him here for the many operations he had to endure. A ‘rat’, maybe to the narrow minded; but a nice humanitarian rat, I would say.

  • I don’t think we should be actively seeking converts from ChUK. If people come and ask to join and they can honestly subscribe to the preamble to our constitution then of course they will be welcome. Let’s be honest, most of the ChUK MPs are not by any stretch of the imagination Liberal Democrats. I enthusiastically welcome converts and returners, but Bill le Breton’s cautionary tale should always be borne in mind. I have lost count of the number of people who have joined us in a flurry of enthusiasm and then sunk without trace or gone back to their previous allegiance. [Viz. Most of the MPs that joined the SDP from Labour]
    We have not survived by poaching people from other parties but by going out and campaigning for what we believe in.

  • I’m curious to know what “lies” Mick Taylor thinks the Guardian told about the Lib Dems in Government – and did he ever complain to the Guardian about this ?

  • Mick Taylor 23rd May ’19 – 8:39am…….. Mt wife and I abandoned the Guardian once it started telling lies about LidDems in government……….

    Which lies would that be? I only remember ‘uncomfortable truths’.

    As for the Guardian being a Labour supporting paper?????? Their vilification of Corbyn, ever since he became leader, is evidence that they are a centrist newspaper, generally far more in tune with the LibDem viewpoint.

  • Paul Barker 23rd May '19 - 1:23pm

    Our best option after these Elections is to explore some sort of Alliance with The Greens & Change. I hope our Leadership contest doesn’t get in the way of that.
    We have to remember that the boost we got from The Local Elections will probably be temporary. We may get more boosts from The European Elections, The By-election in 2 Weeks & our Leadership contest but they will probably be temporary too. Come the Autumn we need to make our own News & a New Alliance could be just the Story that Voters want to hear.

  • chris moore 23rd May '19 - 2:10pm

    Paul Barker 23rd May ’19 – 1:23pm
    Our best option after these Elections is to explore some sort of alliance with The Greens & Change.

    Change have little to offer, except a sense of their own entitlement.

    They have no resonance in the country, no activists, no policies – except Revoke – and no idea of the effort necessary to get anywhere as a third party. Also, they’ve already shown how duplicitous they are capable of being.

    What would be the point of standing down in a winnable seat for a Change candidate, for example? This would immediately make the seat less winnable, if not unwinnable.

    It’s precisely because Change pulled out of possible co-operation with us in the Euros, that we are going to make another step forward. If we HAD been able to put together joint candidates, no doubt Change would be claiming all the credit, in the event of a decent result, and being hyped by the Westminster bubble media.

    A very bad result in the Euros is precisely the medicine Change need.

  • Roland Postle 23rd May '19 - 3:32pm

    @Bill le Breton
    The seat threshold by that poll would end up 9.5% (Labour’s vote divided by the 2 seats they’d get). For 3 seats LDs would therefore need 28.5% (+4.5% from the poll) while CUK would need 9.5% (+3%) which RemainVoter deem to be closer, because 3 is less than 4.5. They don’t show their exact working but from their method description that’s how they arrived at the recommendation.

    The more recent YouGov poll (3864 individuals) has LD 24% still, Lab 20%, CUK down to 4%, and Green 14% still. Which makes the seat threshold 10% and puts all 3 pro-Remain parties 6% from the next seat, ie. CUK needing to *more* than double, yet RemainVoter are still recommending them.

    A lot of people seem dazzled by the site’s apparent number crunching expertise unfortunately, but at least most of the other tactical voting sites have been recommending LD in most regions. I assume this kind of site will be a feature in future elections and get gamed more and more so we need to be prepared for that.

    Everyone should read that Farage/Five Star article!

  • Paul Barker 23rd May '19 - 4:59pm

    @Chris Moore
    Im sure Change will have a better grasp of reality after Monday, its obvious what they have to gain from us but what do we have to gain from them ? I would say 4 things :
    Co-operation. The sight of us working together with other Parties when we dont have to will generate goodwill for us. It also expresses our values.
    Realignement. Change have MPs from Labour & The Tories. Thats another good story & it may encourage more movers.
    Newness. Change dont look new to us anymore but we are political obsessives, they are still New to most Voters.
    Last & least – Triplicity (threeness) We saw how easy it was for journalists to exploit minor differences between The SDP & Liberals, that’s harder to do with 3 Parties, its a different dynamic. And we do need The Greens onboard- they do have a core vote & 50,000 members.
    Sorry that’s so long.

  • @ Paul Barker “And we do need The Greens on board”. Are they likely to want to be on board, Paul ?

    Would they want to join up with a party that supported austerity and welfare cuts, supported increasing privatisation of the NHS, supports (some sort of) nuclear deterrent, and opposes a second referendum on Scottish Independence – all of which are major differences ?

    I notice Alison Johnstone MSP, the Scottish Greens Parliamentary co-leader, said yesterday, “Phillip Alston’s damning conclusions are yet more evidence that the UK Government must stop the welfare ‘reforms’ that are pushing hundreds of thousands of Scots into poverty, and to substantially re-invest in our social security system. It is time to scrap the benefits freeze, the benefits cap and the two-child limit; halt and fix Universal Credit and reverse cuts to disability benefits”.

    Not sure what the Lib Dems think. No statement yet on the Alston Report from any Lib Dem spokesperson.

  • Richard Underhill 24th May '19 - 9:17am

    Geoffrey Payne:
    “Change UK will have no choice but to work with the Lib Dems … maybe the party will fold, what alternative do they have?”
    Sarah Wollaston was never really a Tory. She was elected in one of David Cameron’s experiments with democracy
    Lib Dem MPs all voted for her bill.
    She is a committee chair with a place on the Liaison Committee.

  • Dennis Wake 24th May '19 - 4:18pm

    David Raw: Maybe they had other things on their mind with an election taking place. It would have been wiser to put this report out when there were less big news items around.

  • Bill le Breton 25th May '19 - 8:43am

    Roland P – thanks for your thoughts. I am dividing the votes (represented by the original % in the/a poll) by “number of seats + 1” – a lot of people seem to be dividing by 2 each time.

    You are right that such sites will be a feature of future elections and we need a special unit of the rebuttal team right on this immediately something new is published.

    Remainer.vote must be challenged post election AND it’s funding challenged. When people run such sites they need to name themselves on the site and not just say trust us because we are academic/technocrats with no political interest.

    There is no evidence we had anyone doing this in this election.

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