What policy platform can we share with The Independent Group?

The first area of campaigning on a common platform other than fighting Brexit might conceivably be a drive to alleviate child poverty in Britain once and for all.

Our party committed ourselves to that principle in the comprehensive motion Mending the Safety Net, passed at the Brighton Conference of 2016, which prioritised reducing child poverty.

Now Heidi Allen MP, one of the three ex-Tory Independents, who reportedly attacked George Osborne in her Maiden speech in 2015 over his tax cuts to welfare benefits, has lately undertaken an anti-poverty tour of the country with Frank Field MP.

A new urgency is required to tackle child poverty following a report last Wednesday, February 20, from the think-tank the Resolution Foundation, which states that child poverty is projected to rise by a further six percentage points by 2023-24 to a record high. It explains, ‘In our projection, the majority of children who either have a single parent, are in larger families, are in a household where no-one is in work, or live in private or social rented housing  will be in poverty by 2023-24.’ The report’s author, Adam Corlett, demands that the Government reassess the continuation of working-age benefit cuts which contribute to this dire projection, which comes despite the slightly more favourable present economic circumstances of household income.

We may therefore hope that our own Welfare Spokesperson Christine Jardine MP may eagerly pursue along with Heidi Allen an end to the benefit cuts, which are currently expected to last another year from April. However, the priorities of the current twelve Independents beyond stopping Brexit are less clear-cut, so far as they are yet known.

The statement of the original seven ex-Labour MPs calls for a diverse, mixed social-market economy which will allow investment in public services. It says that inequalities are to be reduced through the extension of opportunity, and adds that ‘individuals are capable of taking responsibility if opportunities are offered them.’ This could be interpreted as the MPs being unlikely to condemn the public attitudes denounced by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston in his November statement, that work is the only feasible way out of poverty, and that disadvantaged individuals may be treated callously in the roll-out of Universal Credit.

Moreover Anna Soubry MP, another of the three defectors from the Tories, who was a business minister in David Cameron’s Government has publicly defended the austerity policies of the Coalition years. This contrasts with Heidi Allen’s statement that she herself can no longer represent a government and a party ‘who can’t open their eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable’. Such different attitudes even between the Tory defectors are again likely to be discovered in some of the former Labour MPs, three of whom were Shadow ministers in the time of the Coalition.

Can there even be a coherent policy platform arising from the twelve MPs?  It is early days, and it remains to be seen whether they may be influenced by Liberal Democrat policies or only produce anodyne compromise suggestions. Yet these people have bravely risked their political futures, not only in denouncing their own party’s excesses of Left or Right, but in daring to cross the great divide between the two major parties. They have shown already openness and fresh thinking which bodes well for the possibilities of co-operation with our party on policies to restore and  revive our demoralised country. The fact that they think that the two-party system is broken should surely mean that they may also be co-operative in the needful fight for a fairer electoral system.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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28 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Feb '19 - 1:05pm

    Katharine you bring a constructive and of course welcome contribution to our debate about these mps.

    I feel there is much to agree with in this piece.

    And thus much to agree with amongst these mps.

    The disagreements between them are as between any group.

    I am happier with ex New Labour or one nation Tories, than with some of the views of radical left wing liberals in this party.

    If this party had not decried moderate, centre, etc., I would feel more akin to it than to this new group.

    As things are , I, as someone who is in the centre ground, am keen for complete unity on these issues wherever possible, and thus cannot countenance fighting them, but can, in fact, joining them.

    Sir Vince, much as ever, has insight, yet seems to have read the mood wrong, about their attitude to this party.

    We need the skills of more objective people more centre ground first, tribal, not at all.

    I am available…

  • ……………………Heidi Allen MP, one of the three ex-Tory Independents, who reportedly attacked George Osborne in her Maiden speech in 2015 over his tax cuts to welfare benefits, has lately undertaken an anti-poverty tour of the country with Frank Field MP…………….

    Strange then that Heidi Allen has generally voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits. Still, never mind, on welfare her heart’s in the right place just as long as it doesn’t actually mean giving more money for those in need.

  • The principal area of common ground is the urgent need for political reform, which directs towards a one-election deal to rid the country of the albatross that is our voting system.

    Meanwhile, we urgently need a younger dynamic leader. Labour is frequently derided for relying upon its magic grandad, but we are in the same position, without the magic.

  • David Becket 23rd Feb '19 - 2:46pm

    Our urgently needed new leader must have had nothing to do with coalition if we are to been taken seriously as wanting to break the mould. That cuts out two front runners, Jo and Ed.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Feb '19 - 3:48pm

    Hopefully, Lorenzo, Lib Dems will not be planning to switch to The Independent Group if it becomes a political party, but will be keen to introduce their members to our values and policies, discussing and perhaps learning from them too. I was interested in the way Chuka Umunna spoke about housing needs on Any Questions last night, so perhaps that is a policy area we could discuss. I would hope too that our Communities and Local Government spokesperson, Tim Farron, would like to engage on those important questions, such as the needs of local government in providing vital services after all the cutbacks.

    If Heidi Allen has come to deplore welfare cuts, expats, which previously she voted for, let us take that as a hopeful pointer to the openness of the Independents to consider new thinking – which presumably in fact should be a given, in view of their rejection of their old parties.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Feb '19 - 4:24pm

    Katharine, we did things right as Liberals and Democrats, the mistakes were as a result of the coalition meaning the worst, due to Tory pull rightward, and inept leadership with lack of political antenna, though I do have regard for Nick Clegg as a person and politician, he was less capable as a party leader.

    It is in little ways only, about policies. This is about perception, and more.

    It is about the poor leadership of our country and a party that can alter this.

    New Labour did much good and some lousy mistakes were made.

    I would say the same of Sir John Major as with Nick and comments made.

    We see now, this is about how we can change things. I could not care less what regrouping we are up for, these mps are our friends, we theirs.

    They seem not to understand this party, although very big understanding of its electoral poor reputation and poll results.

    Tribal politics must be pushed aside. I think we must get audacious.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Feb ’19 – 3:48pm………….If Heidi Allen has come to deplore welfare cuts, expats, which previously she voted for, let us take that as a hopeful pointer to the openness of the Independents to consider new thinking – which presumably in fact should be a given, in view of their rejection of their old parties…………

    She deplored welfare cuts in her maiden speech (as you pointed out in your introduction;. she then, consistently, voted for further cuts.
    It does her career no harm at all to be seen as ‘caring’. I just wish such ‘care’ went on after the ‘cameras stopped rolling’.

  • Paul Barker 23rd Feb '19 - 5:26pm

    This is a moment for a new start in British Politics so lets all agree to ignore those who endlessly witter on about past sins, ours or others.
    Whether we are talking about Manifestos for individual Parties or for any new Alliance or Umbrella movement, we need to distinguish between stuff that has to be in, right at the back & a couple of striking Policies that we need upfront. Electoral & Constitutional Reform has to be in any Manifesto otherwise it will get blocked in The Lords but we don’t want to spend any airtime talking about it. Voters don’t get that sort of stuff & it turns them off.
    What Voters want to hear about is bread & butter Reforms like the excellent suggestions in Katherine Pindars piece.
    This is our best chance in 4 Decades, lets run with it.

  • We can find out what the attitude of our party is by asking our members. And the new non party? Who are they going to ask?

  • Martin Land 23rd Feb '19 - 5:55pm

    A new start for British politics? No, just another bunch of has beens and never will be’s. Let’s focus on being Liberals. Focus on the May elections. Every time we are seduced by an apparent short cut it costs us dearly. Will we never learn?

  • nigel hunter 23rd Feb '19 - 6:22pm

    Yes, we must concentrate on Mays elections and build the party up at the locals. A success their will show up on the polls and give us a boost . Wishfull thinking about alliances should wait until after May when the reality of the TIGs position as a party or not will be more clear.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Feb '19 - 7:14pm

    “The principal area of common ground is the urgent need for political reform, which directs towards a one-election deal to rid the country of the albatross that is our voting system.”

    Seconded

    “Meanwhile, we urgently need a younger dynamic leader. Labour is frequently derided for relying upon its magic grandad, but we are in the same position, without the magic.”

    But ours talks more sense…

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Feb '19 - 9:50pm

    Some good points, thanks, chaps. Of course the May elections have to be our party priority after (hopefully!) seeing off Brexit; and of course we should make electoral reform a must-have in any agreement with the Independents as a group. But it still could be a new start for British politics, I agree with Paul Barker. And I am sure we are capable of talking to the individual Independents as well as working for the elections. I hope we will, because negativity about our party which is probably shared by some of the Independents is surely to be confronted by discussions with them – which might also lead to more being generally known about all we have to offer.

  • John Marriott 23rd Feb '19 - 9:55pm

    @Martin Land
    “A bunch of has beans and never will be’s”. You could be, in some people’s eyes, be describing the Lib Dems. For goodness sake, rather than denigrating people, who have quite possibly signed their own political death warrants by what they have done, you should show a little more understanding and indeed appreciation of the bravery they have shown. The fact that TIG ‘support’ in at least one opinion poll has immediately registered at 14% just shows how little attention the public has been paying recently to the Lib Dems. Who knows what might happen in the next few weeks and months. We live in strange times.

  • The fact that people, when asked, say that they would vote for a non-existant party says more about the people who ask the question those who answer it. The saying about ask a silly question you get a silly answer springs to mind. I remember when « we are all Labour around here » was common. I never heard « everyone supports a non-existant party around here ».

  • Thanks Katharine, this is a subject we need to give careful thought to, and I agree with those who say we need to remember that we think that politics is broken and we need electoral reform, and we know better than most the limitations of the existing system. As such, we should know better than to blindly assume that published voting records are truly representative of views or behind the scenes actions. Moreso when those voting records are being published in the form of a meme, without any context or nuance whatsoever.

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be cautious, but I listened to the Red Box podcast with Anna Soubry, which is very worth a listen, as well as her appearance on the Last Leg on C4 on Friday. I don’t agree with her on everything, but there’s clearly a lot to work with, not least her apparent pragmatism and acceptance of other points of view.

    Watching Andrew Marr this morning, what stood out was their apparent plan to look at policies afresh, rather than sticking to presumed party political lines. In particular, they plan to review the evidence. I welcome this, but was shouting at the tv that this was what we already do and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a great deal of what they support is suspiciously similar to what we subscribe to.

    We need to be gracious about this, and appreciate the opportunity that comes from a potentially large chunk of traditional Labour or Tory voters being open to a shift in thinking. However, we must also ensure that we don’t hide our own light under a bushel, and find the opportunities to promote our own policies.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Feb '19 - 12:07pm

    Another area in which it might be useful to discuss policy with the Independents is within the fields of jobs and business. They want ‘a diverse, mixed social market economy.’ One of them, Gavin Shuker, has according to Wikipedia said that they want well-regulated business which should be expected to provide ‘decent, secure and well-paid jobs’. I would suggest that someone like Mike Tuffrey, Chair of the Policy Working Group which produced the excellent policy motion Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities: Proposals for a New Economy that Really Works for Everyone, carried at Brighton in September, should seek a meeting with Gavin Shuker to discuss how much he would agree with in this policy, and how proposals could be put forward in his Group to develop and further such ideas.

    The Group wants fairer, more prosperous communities. and the devolving of power to appropriate levels, with greater powers and representation for local government. There seem to be many areas. also including environmental protection, where we could agree on policies with the Group as they move towards forming a political party.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Feb '19 - 12:19pm

    Fiona, I have just seen your comment – exactly, thank you! ‘Looking at policies afresh’, ‘Planning to review the evidence’ – yes, we indeed need to be actively presenting our policies to them. Our party spokespeople should probably be asked to engage directly with the individuals? Could Federal Board work our a plan at their next meeting? Will Vince pursue this? I will certainly tweet to him. This could be a great chance for us to work actively with them to agree on the sort of policies which our country needs.

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Feb '19 - 12:22pm

    There’s no need for us to be critical of TIG because the parties they have left will do enough of that. What’s important is for us to decide on our own policies and then see if we have agreement. If we have a general election this year there is no way that this group can come up with a set of costed policies in time for a campaign. What they have done is very courageous because they have confirmed the extent to which their previous parties are being led by extremists. I don’t think they can offer a united third way but we can.
    We Lib Dems have a philosophy which is a foundation for alleviating the ills of our society without authoritarianism and, for me, authoritarianism is the link between the extreme left and right. We, however, believe in freedom from oppression in whatever form it takes.
    There is an opportunity for our party to show how we would reform our country by investing in a green economy in its broadest sense, which would provide a fillip to that economy and provide new jobs for people. We would also invest in a safety net that’s fit for purpose in the 21st century and create a better health service and education system. Our policies are already heading towards this but we need to be clearer about our direction because we are offering compassion, unlike the Tories, and reform without the baggage of outdated extremism which is what Labour offers.
    This could be a simple clarion call to those who feel politically homeless.

  • Thanks Katharine. The MPs that have joined the IG have already shown an interest in cross-party working, so it’s likely that each of them already has reasonable personal relationships with at least one of our MPs and we should build on that. They don’t have a leader yet, never mind have representatives for particular areas of interest, but we can use our knowledge of their existing interests and previous work to work out who to speak to on each issue and then make the case for our own policy points of view.

    I know some might see it as letting our rivals copy our homework, and there is a risk they’ll claim it all for their own, but I like to think that they know that would be a dangerous move. Handled correctly, we have an extra 11+ cheerleaders for our policies, and with a bit of luck that brings in a few extra sympathetic political commentators in the media, which all comes in handy come an election.

    The immediate concern is that the new group is getting all of the headlines and tv appearances, which means even less airtime for ourselves, but that will happen regardless of what we do, and we should resist the urge to get headlines by making cheap shots. If we can show leadership and a willingness to work together, we stay part of the story. However, we need to be seen as being in control of those relationships, showing leadership in terms of how we might work together and policy.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Feb '19 - 2:37pm

    The plan should be, I think, to get the Independents individually and collectively to learn about and hopefully like our policies. Then if they fail to create a viable centre party, they will see the point of joining us. If on the other hand they succeed, we have the right basis for an electoral alliance.

  • Katharine raises the issue of poverty in the UK and correctly identifies that Heidi Allen is also seeing poverty in the UK as a serious issue which needs to be urgently addressed. Perhaps Sarah Wollaston is of a similar mind, as in 2017 she voted for the suspension of the rollout of Universal Credit. She was selected as candidate for Totnes in the open selection election, receiving 7914 votes (48%). Nearly a quarter of the voters of Totnes took part in that election.

    Fiona, I am not sure pragmatism is enough. I expect many politicians believe they make rational decisions based on the evidence. However, having a political philosophy like ours, where we believe that people should not be held back by their economic situation should give us a strong desire to fix this by ensuring no one in the UK lives in relative poverty and so is disadvantaged.

    I am not convinced that these Independent MPs believe that the voting system for the House of Commons has to be changed, at least to AV where everyone elected is likely to have the support of more than half of the people who voted. Joan Ryan who “was deputy campaign director of NOtoAV in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum” is an example.

  • Peter Hirst 25th Feb '19 - 6:06pm

    There is no substitute to sitting down and talking to this newly formed Group perhaps in a social setting to discussing common aims and objectives with the intention to form a common strategy to enhance progressive politics in this country – no red, green or other coloured lines.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Feb '19 - 7:17pm

    That’s a good idea, Peter – to work with the Independents for a common strategy to enhance progressive politics. I hope the weekly discussions with them in Parliament will be supplemented by many informal meetings, our Spokespeople perhaps seeking out who among them is agreeable to debate particular areas, as we have pointed out Christine Jardine MP might with Heidi Allen. The sooner these contacts are made the better, I would think, since they will surely be looking for new ideas and approaches, distinctive from those of their former parties yet consonant with their own values and preoccupations, and will not yet have portfolios. Perhaps with our own party’s strong values and well worked-out policies, we can encourage them to more radical and progressive thinking than they currently have! Even to supporting radical electoral reform, Michael BG? – after all it would tend to be in their own interests now.

  • Leekliberal 26th Feb '19 - 8:41am

    Where do the TIGs stand on proportional representation? I would find it hard to take them seriously as a reforming plural group if they fail to adopt it.

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