How do we respond to the Labour split?

The news yesterday morning that there is to be a new breakaway group inside the House of Commons, the ‘Independent Group,’ is an historic moment. That may seem hyperbolic, but the anger and resentment displayed by those seven who have left the Labour Party was as damning as it was dramatic. It showed once again why Jeremy Corbyn is, and always has been, the wrong person to lead the Labour Party, let alone be Prime Minister. 

Talks of electoral alliances have of course led to discussions about how the UK’s main centrist party reacts. Echoes of the days of the SDP seem a bit early as the movement has not yet morphed into a political party yet, but if more join the group it could become both a serious challenge for Corbyn to overcome and also a friendly group for the Lib Dems to cooperate with in the Commons, with similar positions on Brexit. 

So far, there seem to be few plans to create another alliance. I think this may well be sensible. The new group define themselves as heavily on the social democratic wing of the spectrum, potentially in opposition to many of the more centrist-leaning principles of the Lib Dems. There is of course the danger that an alliance could damage the independence of our party, as going further to the the left would alienate many potential voters looking for a centrist alternative. It may well be a risk to hard to take for many inside the party, and the failure of the SDP to really change the political landscape still hangs in the mind. 

Vince Cable tweeted yesterday that he was ‘open’ to working with the new group and announcing that there will be discussion between the two sides over how to stop Brexit, which both the Lib Dems and the Independents see as a national disaster. We should welcome discussion over Parliamentary cooperation, but whether there is a public appetite from members and the wider electorate to see a merge remains to be seen. But any moves should definitely be treated with caution at this stage, I think.

The new Independent Group claims that it will offer a new way forward for British politics. That idea has always been represented by the Liberal Democrats from their inception and the ideas of an economically free-market and socially liberal base have been central to British politics for decades. The new group speak of wanting to appeal to the politically homeless. We must form a place inside our own party for such voters, around a centrist agenda.  Any talks of an alliance must not let our values be diluted for political gain, and progressive mergers should always be only agreed if there is enough support.

* Patrick Maxwell is a Liberal Democrat member and political blogger at www.gerrymander.blog and a commentator at bbench.co.uk.

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59 Comments

  • Paul Holmes 19th Feb '19 - 4:31pm

    I have been a Member for 36 years (SDP in 1983 and a founder Lib Dem member in 1988) including a collective 25 years as Cllr and MP. I am at a loss to know what these “..more centrist principles” of our Party are and how exactly they would “conflict” with the principles of Social Democracy? As a Social Liberal I would also reject the definition here of our Party as being about ‘the economic free market married to a social liberal base’ although I accept that we did, regrettably in my view, have a brief flirtation with that between Dec 2007 and 2015.

    How any or all of this marries up to anything the TIG’s are proposing we will have to wait and see as so far their only definitive policy statement is about being against Brexit.

  • John Barrett 19th Feb '19 - 4:43pm

    No doubt the denial about forming a new party will be “denied” again, if financial backers and other MPs join the group of seven.

    What the Liberal Democrats must be aware of is that there is a serious risk to our party of any such group growing and competing for the same supporters we now have out there in the country.

    Talk of pacts and discussions with such a “party” are premature, but serious thought about to deal with such a potential threat to our existing and future support is something that Vince and others should be well aware of.

  • David Elder 19th Feb '19 - 5:19pm

    The opportunity to reshape the political landscape is rare. We should do everything possible to reach out to these Brave Seven and facilitate an electoral pact. Let Brexit be our common fight today, but let’s grasp the opportunity now to broaden our base for the years ahead.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Feb '19 - 5:23pm

    Discussions between Liberal Democrats in Parliament and the new Independent Group are clearly NOT premature, as our Leader Vince Cable has tweeted. They have probably already talked about how to stop No Deal, and personally I hope that necessary action will be taken in February by Remainers of all parties, not left to the cliff-edge of late March. After that we will see whether a new centrist party forms, but I do not see any likelihood of that. We shall have nothing to merge with, and should not consider it anyway, IMO.

  • David Allen 19th Feb '19 - 5:32pm

    “danger that an alliance could damage the independence of our party, as going further to the the left would alienate many potential voters looking for a centrist alternative.”

    So – They’re far too dangerously lefty.

    “It’s a bit hawkish.”
    “some real deserving/undeserving poor undertones to it – and an echo of that awful phrase “hard working families.”” (Both quotes from Caron Lindsay’s piece today).

    So – They’re far too posh Tory (or even, dare I say it, Orange Booky).

    Confusing, hey?

    Well anyway, they’re not part of the Lib Dem tribe, so whatever they stand for, they can get stuffed!

  • Denis Mollison 19th Feb '19 - 5:47pm

    If half of what Another Angry Voice claims about the `Independent Seven’ is true, they’re to the right of the Liberal Democrats in most respects, and we would be advised to use a long spoon if supping with them.

    The one clear policy we hopefully can agree with them and cooperate on is stopping Brexit. We should stick to this until at least 29th March and consider any closer relationship only once Brexit is settled.

  • John Marriott 19th Feb '19 - 5:49pm

    It must be exciting for Patrick who, judging from his photo, probably wasn’t even born the last time that a split occurred in the Labour Party. The trouble is that many of us have seen it all before and have got the T shirt ( not to mention the scars as well). Unfortunately all these goings on and speculation where the true radicalism resides. Whatever side of the fence you occupy, and, indeed, if you are actually sitting on it, without electoral reform, you will end up disappointed.

  • Paul Barker 19th Feb '19 - 5:57pm

    The idea of merger is irrelevant, if they had wanted to merge with us they could just have joined. Our experience of Merger should put us off the idea forever, last time it came close to destroying us.
    The 7 are clearly keeping their options as open as possible while they wait for the reaction to their first moves. The SDP did the same, they waited 2 Months after leaving to announce a New Party.
    What happened after the formation of The Alliance in 1981 shows the massive potential of a new Partnership, we could grow a lot faster with allies & for us & any New Party to fight each other would be mutual suicide.
    Greens, Liberals, Social Democrats or Centrists; none of us are big enough to break through on our own, we need to work together.

  • The most sensible offer we could make the ‘Independent group’ is to agree not to stand against each other and to fight under a common banner should an election be held within the next 12 months. We should also agree who would be PM in advance to avoid confusing the electorate. This gives all sides a sensible platform to work on but does not commit the Lib Dem’s to a merger

  • Denis Mollison 19th Feb '19 - 6:15pm

    As a member who first first got involved by joining the SDP in 1981, the difference between this lot and the SDP founders is chalk and cheese. I’m not sure they’re in favour of any `new Partnership’, let alone one I’d support.

  • How many more speculative articles about the potential implications of this Labour splinter group do we actually need at this stage? We should not be rushing to instant judgements – whether to dismiss the splitters or to welcome them with open arms. Both these responses are equally unwise and premature. We need to wait and see precisely what emerges, then respond as appropriate.

    However, the most urgent priority for all sensible MPs must surely be to continue with cross-party cooperation in order to compel HMG to apply for extension of Article 50 – and thereby stop a “no deal” Brexit on 29 March. Beyond that, we should also work with so-called TIGs and other pro-remain MPs to help build a HoC majority for a “final say” referendum. THEN we can start talking with TIGs and others who seem to broadly share our values about a wider agenda for change on an issue-by-issue basis.

    In the meantime, any idle chatter about possible mergers, pacts or alliances with a party that has not yet formed, and has no clear or defined policy platform, should IMO be firmly resisted.

  • Sean Hyland 19th Feb '19 - 9:08pm

    How many groups do the leadership look to get together with to re-invigorate the party? Not that long ago it seemed to be all about the Canadian Liberals, then being led by a non-member, next its the new congresswoman in US, now lets work with the Independent Group even though nobody is entirely sure yet what they truly stand for.

    How about getting back to some original liberal values and coming up with a few more relevant,radical policies that actually address the needs of the UK electorate?

  • Oh no, not another Labour convulsion leafing is to scrabble for some (not that well matched) fellow travellers? Please let’s not help this lot along, they are not liberals, have not crossed to the Liberal Democrats- and might not even be social democrats either (although what that was was never clear to me, and am irritated every time it is suggested that the Owenites were somehow more true, more radical or less socially conservative than the good old LP.). There are a lot of former SDP in the Tories now!

    We had the Labour right in the 80s, the Labour left after Iraq, and now displaced Labour right once again.

    Please guys can we just have our own party back? It’s a moot point that any of these 7 could even keep their seats at an election – and we really do not need to waste our resources helping them.

  • Peter Watson 19th Feb '19 - 9:37pm

    “Vince Cable tweeted yesterday that he was ‘open’ to working with the new group”
    Given that Vince Cable has long been in talks with a variety of people about the scenario that is currently developing (to the extent that he famously missed a crucial parliamentary vote on Brexit several months ago for such a meeting) and that a few months ago he was pushing the idea of a “movement of moderates” (along with a few ideas about who could be a Lib Dem candidate or leader), it would be shockingly incompetent if he and his fellow senior Lib Dems weren’t prepared for this and didn’t have a cunning plan for whatever comes next.

  • @David – the point about naming a wood be PM is to ensure we don’t get into a David Steel or David Owen debate. Agree it from the top off and it’s not a distraction

  • @Peter Watson
    If there is “a cunning plan” up Vince’s sleeve, it’s currently very well disguised (perhaps intentionally so). Perhaps there will be “a big reveal” at next month’s Spring Conference? Why, for example, does the Federal Board wish to open up the proposed registered supporters’ scheme to members of other political parties (although apparently not for leadership elections) … or to allow non-MPs to stand for election as Lib Dem leader? It’s all very mysterious at present and the real motivation behind these suggested internal reforms now needs to be explained.

  • Denis Mollison 19th Feb '19 - 10:32pm

    And now we have an 8th defection, Joan Ryan MP for Enfield. I note from wikipedia she was Deputy Director of No2Av, and more recently chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

  • Denis,
    You forgot to mention an unknown editor of her wikipedia page is the winner of the “Sweeping things under the Carpet” Award 2010

    https://www.tomscott.com/wikiparliament/

    An amusing read.

  • Graham Evans 19th Feb '19 - 11:01pm

    @ Denis Mollison You have to read AAV with a pitch of salt. Like NBN, it’s a left wing blog which frequently distorts the reporting of complex issues to reflect its own political agenda. Moreover the comments on both these blogs exemplifies the abuse and anti-Semitism which afflicts anyone who does not subscribe to the JC fan club.

  • Ian Patterson 19th Feb '19 - 11:12pm

    At present atrophy rate we will be exceeded as fourth Commons party by weekend!

  • Surely the immediate question is whether some or all of the Gang of Seven (>Eight) can be brought to support Liberal Democrat positions in the HoC. Questions about strategising for a GE surely have little relevance at the moment.

  • Steve Trevethan 20th Feb '19 - 7:38am

    Perhaps the first and most important questions are those which obtain clarity on any funding for this set of people?

  • Sean makes some good points RE changes to the Lib Dem’s membership rules, etc. However time may not be our friend here, if May calls a GE we can’t afford to be seen squabbling amongst ourselves in the centre ground. A takeover of the Lib Dem’s by like minded people would not be a bad thing in my view

  • Denis Mollison 20th Feb '19 - 8:30am

    @Graham Evans – I do read AAV – and all websites – with a pinch of salt. I am well aware that AAV goes in for OTT rants from time to time, not least against the Liberal Democrats. But can you point me to an alternative analysis of the track records and views of the Independent 7 (now 8) that shows them to be well aligned with Lib Dem values and policies? And on anti-semitism, a search for Palestine on AAV (https://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.com/search?q=Palestine) brings up a well-balanced piece on the distinction between being against Israel’s government and being anti-semitic.

    @frankie – I also read Wikipedia with a pinch of salt; but I think the info I extracted ref. Joan Ryan is correct (except that I abbreviated the name of her constituency – it should be Enfield North).

  • Richard Underhill 20th Feb '19 - 8:54am

    In context “to” can also be spelt “too”.
    Enfield North is a bell-weather seat (the leading sheep of a flock has a bell hung around its neck: Chambers dictionary.)
    Joan Ryan leaves Labour and joins the seven Independents criticising Corbyn.
    On BBC tv Newsnight on 19/2/2019 three Tory MPs were named as likely to jump, of which Sarah Woolaston is no surprise because she was chosen as a Tory candidate in a primary contest.
    The surprise is that they are expected to join the ex-Labour MPs rather than become independent conservatives. Switching from voting with the government to voting against counts double, what footballers call a six-pointer.
    “Ardent anti-Brexit campaigners Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, as well as Heidi Allen, who has been on an anti-poverty tour around Britain with ex-Labour MP Frank Field, were deemed the most likely recruits, but did not respond to requests for comment.”
    “Current law allows voters to petition for the recall of their MP, but only in specific circumstances – such as where they’ve committed a criminal offence, as in the case of the Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya.”
    Ian Austin, MP for Dudley South, told his local paper, the Express and Star: “People, me included, are going to be thinking long and hard about the position we’re in now.”

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Feb '19 - 9:27am

    Will someone please explain why the defectors/ dissidents/splitters are being referred to as TIGs? I could only come up with Traitorous Independent Groupies for myself! It couldn’t be Tory IGs, for obvious reasons, and it’s too late to have LIGs and TIGs now. Anyway their current value to us is only, as others have said, their equal involvement in fighting Brexit.

  • Peter Martin 20th Feb '19 - 10:12am

    @ Katharine,

    I think it’s just “The Independent Group”. 😉

    But I’m sure people will be trying to think of other more damning alternatives!

  • Sandra Hammett 20th Feb '19 - 10:31am

    The Independent Group have claimed that no party currently in Parliament is fit to govern, we should be asking ourselves what has caused them to put the LibDems in that category. Probably the same reasons why they didn’t just cross the floor to us.

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Feb '19 - 11:16am

    Well, 11 Mps now with the three Conservative defections. Itis starting to look like a serious chalenge.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Feb '19 - 11:33am

    Three tory MPs are now Independents: Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Woolaston.
    When Paddy Ashdown was leader he lent a good agent to Martin Bell who won Tatton, for one parliament, which was honoured by Martin Bell. He was not elected elsewhere.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Bell
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=tatton+constituency&form=WNSGPH&qs=AS&cvid=e97872af7501434f8f26caaa61686978&pq=tatton+constituency&cc=GB&setlang=en-US&nclid=D19A84F13F0AA22DEE7AE50DDCF460A0&ts=1550662219390&wsso=Moderate

  • @Steve Trevethan – “Is it fact that number 8, Joan Ryan, is in receipt of US$1 million from the Israeli Embassy?”

    What do you think? No mention in her register of interests – https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/10523/joan_ryan/enfield_north#register

    So unless the Israeli Embassy donated US$1m to the Enfield North constituency labour party (which I doubt, and would be on record if it happened), then I would say no…..

  • Denis Mollison 20th Feb '19 - 11:40am

    Sarah Wollaston is the first defector I’d welcome into the Lib Dems – and from her seat (Totnes)’s history she’d have a good chance of winning/holding it for us.

    Heidi Allen I know less about, but she also comes from a Lib Dem inclining seat – South Cambridgeshire.

  • Aren’t those 3 Tories under threat of deselection by their local parties, and therefore have little to lose?

  • Denis Mollison 20th Feb '19 - 11:42am

    Apologies for misspelling Woolaston

  • 11 mps in less than week. That’s something for the Libdems to be envious of surely.

    If this movement gains traction and gains more defectors, financial backers and supporters, I don’t think it will be to long before we see them become a registered party.

    It is certainly interesting time for politics, although I do not agree with this groups views on Brexit. I am interested to see what they evolve into after brexit and what they stand for.
    As it stands, I am one of those who feels politically homeless, I cannot bring myself to vote Labour whilst Corbyn is in charge. I have not forgiven Liberal Democrats for the betrayals in 2010-15 and I am afraid I do not belive lessons have been learnt in order for me to trust them with my vote again. I could never bring myself to vote Conservative. So will be interestng to see what emerges from this new party if it happens

  • John Probert 20th Feb '19 - 11:59am

    Our leader should now send an open letter to each member of the Labour breakaway group, setting out our core Liberal Democrat principles, inviting them to join us if they support these or to discuss any differences with us.

  • Matt
    The Lib Dem MPs were elected as Lib Dems on a Lib Dem manifesto. These TIGs on the other hand have co-opted votes to create a challenge to the Parties they were elected as representatives of. If they were genuinely honourable, they would stand down so that their constituents could choose whether or not they sill wanted them as their MPS. I suspect they will not do this because in most cases they would be beaten by candidates from the Parties they left . The reason a PM can be changed without causing a general election is because we elect governments not individuals. IMO it is not unreasonable to expect a similar principle from MPs

  • Denis Mollison 20th Feb '19 - 12:13pm

    @Nick Baird – ref. the `£1m. from Israel’ – I think it refers to Israeli government money for MP trips to Israel, arranged through LFI of which Joan Ryan was chair . See (with the usual pinch of salt!) –
    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/labour-friends-israel-israeli-embassy-front
    The al-jazeera investigative programme linked on this page has a discussion with Joan Ryan at the LFI stall at a Labour conference in which the £1m is mentioned.

  • This isn’t about a Labour split any more, its the beginning of the breakup of Britains 2 Party system, something we have been trying to do for the last Century. We should be reacting with joy & hope.
    No doubt each of the 11 have done & said things we have disagreed with in the Past. You can’t live in the Past, you can’t change it. What we can do is help build the Future.
    The New Party will need us & we need them ; that is, unless you don’t mind waiting a Decade for our Recovery to be complete – I do mind.
    We should be looking to build a “New Alliance” between us, The New Party & The Greens.

  • @Denis Mollison – there is little point in speculating about which of these defectors, if any, might be welcomed into the Lib Dems when they have all clearly decided (at least for now) to by-pass us. What our parliamentarians should be urgently asking, and seeking to address, is why our party is not seen as a credible or attractive alternative home for any of these so-called “moderates” and “centrists”. Why is the Lib Dem brand apparently still so toxic and/or uninspiring? Discuss …

  • Amazed so many people fall for this nonsense. FPTP prevents any chance of a new party breaking through. Even one with 100,000 members and an infrastructure cannot do so as we well know. Another footnote in the history books – unless, by treating them seriously we give them some credibility.

  • “unless, by treating them seriously we give them some credibility”

    Then perhaps treat them seriously?

    Strikes me that this is a golden opportunity to build momentum for a change to the system. If the minor parties compete and fight amongst each other they’ll be destroyed; work alongside each other and there is a chance that they can all benefit.

  • David Becket 20th Feb '19 - 1:45pm

    We are uninspiring, look at Ed Davey responding to the student climate protest. Too much time spent complaining what the Tories had done, or not done. That is not what the public wants. This new group will be seen as new and refreshing, prepared to break the current tired mould of party politics, which we do not. It is only to be hoped that they can get through First Past the Post. They will need our help, and we need to come to an agreement. If it is agreed that we do not stand in Constituency X then we do not want some jumped up local party official breaking that agreement. We need to be very careful and very clever.
    A new young leader would help to create a new look Lib Dem Party.
    As far as toxic is concerned that is mainly confined to Labour supporters, and only time will erase that.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Feb '19 - 2:36pm

    Paul Barker
    “We should be looking to build a ‘New Alliance’ between us, The New Party & The Greens.”

    “The New Party”? Really? Have you no sense of historical resonance?

  • Seam Hagan. Perhaps one reason for avoiding the Lib Dems is because they are indeed moderate and centrists, two adjectives which I have always felt inadequate for the political tradition and philosophy I espouse and have done for more than half a century.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Feb '19 - 2:46pm

    This is a split away from same old same…to a new political way.

    I believe it is a new era of a better future.

    I shall join it . We must.

    An alliance is not good enough. We must make it possible to be Liberals, social democrats, one nation Tory , together as part of a whole, progressive centre, this is a permanent coalition with no farther right, no farther left.

    We can break the mould this way.

    And in Heidi Allen I see a pm.

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th Feb '19 - 3:15pm

    Considerably more excited about this now the Tories have joined, which surprises me on one level, but I have more faith in Allen, Soubry and Wollaston’s talent, grit and faith in devolution and democracy than I do in Umuna for eg. And for now, I’m relieved by the absence of Johnson, Grieve, and several Tory males who are still unsure about whether or not to compromise with the Tory machine.

    However, I’m still watching and waiting. I’m feeling a bit detached from the Lib Dems’ future direction of travel at the moment (not being that socially radical in terms of the politics of personal morality), but a lot of what TIG is saying is demonstrably naieve and complacent about democratic structures, accountability and voting system.

    A third party that believes all is right with ‘winner takes all’ dualist FTPP and has no critique of how much it has culturally lobotomised our politics (even in this party, which thinks it is the party of intelligent analysis, political pluralism and freedom of opinion) is on a suicide trip.

  • I think we would be having largely the same discussion about the Council for Social Democracy and the Gang of Four if this was “Liberal Voice” in the early ’80s.

    The TIG MPs are not Liberals – just as the SDP weren’t. They do occupy much of the same ground as the Lib Dems. I suspect the SDP outpolled the Liberals. The issues are much the same – Europe, dissatisfaction with a left-wing Labour leader and an extreme Tory party.

    I am sure many Liberals would have the same issues expressed here about arriviste MPs against their hard electoral work on the ground and about Liberal “purity”.

    But I wouldn’t be a Lib Dem without the SDP. I have become increasingly liberal. In 79, if I had been old enough I would have voted Labour. Although I followed that election very closely my memory is that the Liberals didn’t register at all with me. And MPs from wherever they come do count.

    I truly think this – if handled right – will be a big boost to the Lib Dems. The success of Lib Dems in 1997 wouldn’t have happened without the SDP.

    The TIG have a choice. FPTP is hard taskmaster. The can remain separate or they can form an alliance in some form with us. They may or may not think it at the moment but they do need our ground organisation.

    But in the meantime there is a massive opportunity for us in the coming local elections. TIG won’t be fighting in the local elections. In the meantime we can hoover up disaffected Labour and Tory moderate voters.

  • @ Malcolm Todd.

    Re The New Party, naah. Nobody really bothers looking at history anymore. If they did, they’d have all thrown up their hands in horror when Blair started going on about The Third Way. When I first heard that term it conjured up images of the National Bolsheviks, Ernst Niekisch et al.

    In short, if you know about, or understand the historical resonance of names and phrases, then you clearly read too many books, and are some kind of interlekchooul; and this is obviously bad.

  • Joseph Bourke
    I was talking about the way electorate vote. IMO these people are co-opting votes and the work of their local parties . They should be honourable enough to give their voters chance to endorse or reject them. Personally, I suspect that none of them would be elected as Independents or as TIGs.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Feb '19 - 5:26pm

    The death of Alf Baker has been noticed by a local paper in Kent. As chairman of the Liberal Democrats in Tunbridge Wells his support was important to moving the motion to free John McCarthy, which was carried at federal conference, with the Tunbridge Wells PPC, a Sevenoaks member, seconding the motion.
    Alf was a socialist who came to us via the Labour Party and the SDP without changing his views. He told us that he had marched for “World government by 1955”, but regretted that it had not been achieved. Tories on the borough council preferred him as mayor to a Liberal woman who was too radical for them.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Feb '19 - 5:52pm

    Apparently the Independent Group are looking for members in the Lords. How about David Owen ? (Foreign Secretary 1977-1979). He has only split two parties so far, so why not another one? He has been a Labour MP and as leader of SDP2 he has urged his supporters to vote Conservative (Mail on Sunday 1992). Thanks to legislation sponsored by David Steel it is now possible to resign a peerage and become eligible for the Commons. The Independent Group have not yet announced a candidate for the Newport bye-election and may not be aware that an SDP2 candidate was defeated by a candidate of the Monster Raving Loony Party in a bye-election in Merseyside.

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