Change UK

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Change UKThe Independent Group
AbbreviationChUK
LeaderHeidi Allen (interim)
SpokespersonChuka Umunna
ConvenerGavin Shuker
Founders
Founded18 February 2019; 3 months ago (2019-02-18)
Registered15 April 2019; 35 days ago (2019-04-15)[1]
Split fromLabour Party
Conservative Party
Headquarters521 Terminal House
52 Grosvenor Gardens
London
SW1W 0AU[1]
Youth wingYoung Independents
IdeologyPro-Europeanism[2]
Political positionCentre
European Parliament groupEuropean People's Party[a]
Colours     Black      White[3]
SloganPolitics is broken. Let’s change it.
House of Commons
11 / 650
House of Lords
0 / 781
European Parliament (UK seats)
1 / 73
Website
voteforchange.uk

Change UK – The Independent Group (ChUK) is a centrist, pro-European Union political party in the United Kingdom. Founded in 2019, it is led by Heidi Allen. It has 11 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons and one Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Several local councillors express support for the group although it has no official presence at local government.

In February 2019, seven MPs resigned from the Labour Party to sit as The Independent Group (TIG). They were dissatisfied by Labour's push leftward under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, its approach to Brexit, and its handling of antisemitism within the party. They were soon joined by four more MPs, including three from the governing Conservative Party who disliked their party's approach to Brexit and its perceived move rightward. In April it registered as a political party so as to compete in the May 2019 European Parliament elections.

The party has been characterised by political scientists as a centrist group. A pro-Europeanist party, it calls for a second referendum on European Union membership, in which it would campaign to remain. On economic issues it has expressed a commitment to the social market economy. Although ideologically close to the Liberal Democrats, it has ruled out a merger with that party.

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

Original logo for The Independent Group

The group was founded by MPs Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna, who simultaneously announced their resignations from the Labour Party on 18 February 2019. Comparisons were made in the media to the Gang of Four who split from the Labour Party to found the Social Democratic Party in 1981.[4][5][6] Four of the seven founding members – Berger, Gapes, Shuker and Leslie – were Labour and Co-operative Party MPs: they left both parties.[7] Announcing the resignations, Berger described Labour as having become "institutionally antisemitic", while Leslie said Labour had been "hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left" and Gapes said he was "furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit".[8][9]

Berger, Shuker, Smith and Leslie, as well as Joan Ryan who joined the following day, had recently lost votes of no-confidence brought by their constituency parties.[10][11]

Umunna rejected the notion of any merger with the Liberal Democrats.[8]

Beginnings[edit]

On the day of the group's launch, founding member Angela Smith appeared on the BBC's Politics Live programme, where she said, in a discussion about racism, that: "The recent history of the party I've just left suggested it's not just about being black or a funny tin... you know, a different... from the BAME community". The offending phrase was partially uttered, but was widely reported to be "funny tinge".[12][13] Smith apologised shortly afterwards, saying, "I'm very upset that I misspoke so badly."[12][13][14] Commentators noted an irony, given that the group had been formed in response to perceived racism.[15][16]

On 19 February Joan Ryan announced her departure from the Labour Party, becoming the first MP to join after the group's formation.[17][18][19] On 20 February 2019, three Conservative MPs left their party to join the group: Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, and Anna Soubry, citing the handling of Brexit by the Prime Minister (including "red lines" which alienated most Remainers); the party's reliance on the European Research Group (a group supporting a no-deal Brexit) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in passing Brexit-related legislation; what they saw as the takeover of the Conservative Party by "right wing, ... hard-line anti-EU" MPs; and lack of concern from the Conservative Party for the "most vulnerable in society", as reasons for their departure.[20][21] A few former Conservative and Labour parliamentarians have also publicly declared a switch of allegiance to the new group.[22]

Local government[edit]

In February 2019, Labour councillors in over ten councils also left the party and intend to align with The Independent Group.[23] Two former Labour councillors in Brighton and Hove Council left the party to form their own independent group on 25 February, aligning with the Parliamentary group.[24] There have been further resignations from the party by Labour councillors in Barnet, Bexley, Derby, Salford and Stafford,[25] and by one Conservative councillor in South Bucks.[26] It is unknown how many of these councillors support TIG, but many gave the same reasons as the Labour MPs who left the party: alleged antisemitism in Labour, Corbyn's leadership and Brexit.[25]

Registration as political party[edit]

Interim leader Heidi Allen

In March 2019, the group announced that it had applied to the Electoral Commission to register as a political party under the name "Change UK – The Independent Group", in order to be able to stand candidates if the UK participates in the May 2019 European elections.[27][28] Heidi Allen was appointed interim leader, pending an inaugural party conference planned for September 2019.[29]

Petitions website Change.org announced that it would challenge the branding, which it regarded as having "hijacked" its identity.[30]

Rejected emblem

The registration was confirmed by the Electoral Commission on 15 April 2019.[31] The party's proposed emblem, however, was rejected by the Commission, both for inclusion of the TIG acronym which they considered insufficiently well-known, and for use of a hashtag.[32][33]

On 15 April 2019, the centrist Renew Party, which had formed in 2017 but failed to win seats, announced that it would be closing its own operations in order to support The Independent Group in the European Elections. TIG welcomed the move, and said it would accept applications from Renew-approved candidates to become Independent Group candidates.[34]

European Parliament[edit]

On 16 April 2019, it was announced that MEPs Julie Girling and Richard Ashworth had joined Change UK.[33] Both MEPs had been elected for the Conservative Party, but were suspended from the Conservatives after supporting a motion in the European Parliament saying sufficient progress had not been made in Brexit negotiations to allow trade talks to start.[35] Both Ashworth and Girling are members of the centre-right European People's Party group in the European Parliament.

However, on 10 May, Girling, who decided not to stand in the 2019 European Elections, encouraged Remain supporters in the South West to vote for the Liberal Democrats, saying they were "clearly the lead Remain party in the South West".[36] Girling and Change UK later said that she had never been a member or one of their MEPs.[37]

The party announced on 23 April that it would stand a full slate of candidates in Great Britain for the European Parliament elections, including Ashworth, writer Rachel Johnson (sister of Conservative MPs Jo and Boris Johnson); former BBC journalist Gavin Esler;[38] former Conservative MPs Stephen Dorrell and Neil Carmichael; former Labour MEP Carole Tongue; former Labour MPs Roger Casale and Jon Owen Jones; former Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis;[39] and the former deputy Prime Minister of Poland Jacek Rostowski.[40]

Within a day, controversial tweets, some of an alleged racist nature, by two candidates—including the top candidate for the Scottish constituency—were discovered, leading to their withdrawals.[41][42] The Muslim Council of Great Britain and anti-racism charity Tell MAMA condemned the selection of a third candidate, Nora Mulready, who they said had conflated Islam with terrorism and legitimised the far right;[43] this was dismissed by Mulready and by Change UK as a "smear campaign".[44] Prominent LGBT journalists have condemned the selection of Rostowski for his anti-gay marriage stance, although he is believed to have since recanted homophobic remarks made in 2011 and 2013 about same-sex relationships.[45]

On 15 May, David MacDonald, who had earlier replaced Joseph Russo as the party's lead candidate in Scotland following controversy over the latter's tweets, defected from the party and encouraged supporters to vote for the Scottish Liberal Democrats.[46]

On 20 May 2019, interim leader Heidi Allen suggested that the party might not exist at the next general election and hinted at the formation of an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. [47]

Reactions[edit]

Labour Party[edit]

On 19 February 2019, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded that he was "disappointed" by the actions of the MPs leaving Labour.[8][48] Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that the Independent Group MPs had a "responsibility" to resign and fight by-elections, as they had been elected as Labour MPs and should seek the approval of the electorate for their new platform.[8] Other Labour Party figures stressed reflection, with deputy leader Tom Watson imploring his party to change in order to stave off further defections.[49] Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum, said he had "personal sympathy" for Berger because of the "hate and abuse" she had suffered. However, the six other former Labour MPs were, in his opinion, malcontents opposed to Corbyn's leadership.[8]

Labour MP Ruth George, who had been asked to respond to a Facebook comment suggesting the group's financial backers were "Israelis", replied that "Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’ of which Luciana was chair is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it, especially when the group's financial backers are not being revealed". After Jewish groups said that she was indulging an antisemitic conspiracy theory, she apologised and withdrew her comment.[50][51][52]

On 25 February, the Labour Party announced that it would back moves for a second EU referendum in the coming weeks, a move interpreted as being, in part, in reaction to the threat of further defections to The Independent Group.[53][54]

On 19 March, MPs passed a motion put forward by Labour to remove Gapes, as well as non-TIG independent Ian Austin, from their seats on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee they held as part of the Labour Party's allocation. They were replaced by Labour MPs Conor McGinn and Catherine West. Gapes called the move "a sad day for the independence of Select Committees", while Labour said that it was right that the party filled its allocation of seats on the committees.[55]

Conservative Party[edit]

On 20 February 2019, Prime Minister and Conservative leader Theresa May stated that she was "saddened" by the departure of Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen.[20] Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in a statement on Twitter that he respected but disagreed with the three MPs' decision, as the party needs "strong voices at every level of the party calling for the modern, compassionate Conservatism that saw the Conservative Party return to office."[56]

Liberal Democrats[edit]

On 18 February 2019, before the breakaway, Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said that his party would "work with them in some form" but that his party would not be "subsumed" by them.[12][57] On 19 February, Cable later added that he has "offered a hand of friendship to the new Independent Group" and sees "the way forward as a collaborative arrangement, a confederation of groups who have a lot in common".[58] On 20 February Cable also suggested that the Liberal Democrats will not put up candidates against members of the Independent Group at future elections.[59] On 21 February former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said in a radio interview that it was "entirely possible" that the two groups could merge to form a new centrist political party.[60]

On 23 February, Cable contacted members of The Independent Group to seek support for his proposed parliamentary motion for a second Brexit referendum.[61] The Liberal Democrats signalled support for the amendment, along with the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.[62]

In March 2019, it was reported by Business Insider that the Liberal Democrats and The Independent Group have held discussions about the possibility of forming an electoral alliance where joint candidates would stand under the same "umbrella".[63]

Cable proposed standing joint candidates with the Greens and Change UK on a common policy of seeking a second referendum on Brexit at the European Parliament elections, but both other parties rejected the idea.[64] On 24 April 2019, an unverified internal Change UK document memo leaked describing their plans to target Liberal Democrat donors and members in an attempt to supplant the Liberal Democrats. Part of the Change UK objectives specified in the memo were "No mergers, pacts or alliances."[65][66] On 26 April, Cable said that Change UK had thrown away opportunities at the 2019 European Parliament election had they pooled their strength, but that the LibDems and Change UK had agreed a "non-aggression pact" to discourage "friendly fire".[67]

Structure and aims[edit]

Convenor Gavin Shuker

The group was not launched as a registered political party with a leader, but rather a group of independent MPs with a convenor (Gavin Shuker)[68] and spokesperson (Chuka Umunna).[69] It was established without a formal policy platform. The group is expressly pro-European, supporting calls for a further referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, and is considered to be centrist.[70][71]

The group's slogan is "Politics is broken. Let’s change it",[72] and it states that it aims to pursue evidence-led policies, rather than those led by ideology, with the group being tolerant of differing opinions. Specific stated values include social market economy, freedom of the press, environmentalism, devolution, subsidiarity,[73] and their opposition to Brexit.[74] All eleven MPs support a second referendum on the EU.[74] Though the group has not published a manifesto, it lists eleven "values", including that the government must do "whatever it takes" to protect national security, as Britain is "a great country of which people are rightly proud."[75] Shuker has stated that "[we] back well-regulated business but in return we expect them to provide decent, secure and well-paid jobs" and Leslie has stressed that the group is pro-NATO.[74] Moreover, the group has stated it supports a "diverse, mixed social market economy".[76]

Spokesperson Chuka Umunna

On 14 March 2019, Sarah Wollaston's amendment calling for a second EU referendum was called by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the first TIG amendment to be called. This was the first time that parliament had the opportunity to directly vote on a second referendum.[77] However, after both the People's Vote and Best for Britain campaigns advised supporters not to vote for the amendment[78] and the Labour Party whipped its MPs to abstain, the amendment fell 85–334.[79]

Leslie has described the party as offering a home to those on the centre-left or in the "liberal" or "one nation" tradition.[80]

Funding[edit]

The group is supported in its aims by The Independent Group (TIG) Ltd (previously named Gemini A Ltd), a non-trading company started by Shuker and registered in England and Wales.[81][82] Berger stated that the seven founders funded the launch themselves.[83][84]

The group claimed that thousands of donors gave small amounts within days of the launch.[84] On 23 February 2019 David Garrard, previously a major donor to the Labour Party, was reported to have given financial support to the group; the amount as reported by The Sunday Telegraph was £1.5 million.[85][86] A "significant" donation to the group was later made by crossbencher Lord Myners, the former City Minister under Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.[87]

The party is not entitled to the parliamentary financial assistance for opposition parties (Short Money) as this is not available to political parties established in the middle of a parliamentary term.[88]

Members of elected bodies[edit]

Members of Parliament[edit]

MPs in the group[89]
Name Constituency Former party First elected Joined Portfolios
Heidi Allen South Cambridgeshire Conservative 7 May 2015 20 February 2019 (2019-02-20) Interim Leader
Spokesperson for Welfare and Pensions, Social Care, and Business
Chuka Umunna Streatham Labour 6 May 2010 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson
Gavin Shuker Luton South Labour Co-op 6 May 2010 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Convenor
Luciana Berger Liverpool Wavertree Labour Co-op 6 May 2010 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Home Affairs, Health, Digital and Culture
Ann Coffey Stockport Labour 9 April 1992 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Children and Education
Mike Gapes Ilford South Labour Co-op 9 April 1992 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Defence
Chris Leslie Nottingham East Labour Co-op 1 May 1997 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Economics and Trade
Joan Ryan Enfield North Labour 1 May 1997 19 February 2019 (2019-02-19) Manager of Group Business
Spokesperson for International Development
Angela Smith Penistone and Stocksbridge Labour 5 May 2005 18 February 2019 (2019-02-18) Spokesperson for Transport, Local Government and Housing, Energy and Environment
Anna Soubry Broxtowe Conservative 6 May 2010 20 February 2019 (2019-02-20) Spokesperson for Brexit and Justice
Sarah Wollaston Totnes Conservative 6 May 2010 20 February 2019 (2019-02-20) Responsible for new colleagues
Key:      Founding member

Members of the European Parliament[edit]

MEPs in the group[33]
Name Constituency Former party First elected Joined European Parliament group
Richard Ashworth South East England Independent, previously Conservative 10 June 2004 16 April 2019 (2019-04-16) European People's Party

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ With respect to the current affiliation of the MEP who has defected to the party

References[edit]

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  89. ^ Sabbagh, Dan (28 February 2019). "Chuka Umunna named spokesman for the Independent Group". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 February 2019.

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