Archive for the 'The Independent Group' Category


Change UK have given a masterclass in how not to launch a political party

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

Their muddled thinking has killed their project

To be wrong once is inevitable, to be wrong twice is unfortunate, to be wrong three times is careless, but to be wrong as many times as Change UK have been is to show all the tactical and strategic awareness of a garden leaf trying to outwit a playful cat. It’s not merely that they keep losing the game; it’s not even that they don’t seem to know how the game’s played; it’s as if they don’t even know that there’s a game on at all.

Time and again, right from the beginning, they have made such basic errors in their thinking, their planning and their execution that if they’re to be remembered by history at all, it will be as an object lesson in how not to launch a political party.

We could list dozens of their mistakes but let’s keep it to seven of the bigger ones, as a demonstration of where they went wrong.

1. They failed to organise as a party at or shortly after defecting

You only get one chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes. Change fluffed theirs. From the first days, it was clear that the defecting MPs were far more animated by what they were opposed to (Corbyn, Brexit) than what they advocated. As soon as they left their previous parties and created a new group, it should have been clear that there could be no going back and that therefore the only options were to join another pre-existing party or to form one themselves. Having rejected the former option, they needed to define themselves before others defined them. They didn’t.

2. They failed to appoint or elect a leader

Minor parties get little media coverage and need to force their way into news stories and discussions. Having a clear leader who is constantly available, willing and capable of projecting their message is crucial: Change failed to appoint or elect one (and once they did, they might as well have not bothered). British politics has certain parameters parties are expected to conform to. If you ignore them, chances are you’ll be ignored yourself.

3. They failed to give themselves a clear name

Nothing sums up Change UK’s blundering more than the sorry saga of their name. They first picked one – The Independent Group – that said little about what they were for, before dumping what progress they had made with that and switching to Change UK, which also says nothing about what they stand for or against, yet still tagged on their previous name in a made-by-committee composite.

Their Twitter handle has changed so often that it’s hard even for interested politics watchers to keep track and their website is registered under the unintuitive . Remarkably, if you type into your browser, you’ll be redirected to the Lib Dems.

Contrast all this with Nigel Farage’s new vehicle, The Brexit Party – which implies all you need to know about it in about a second. Change could have taken a leaf out of the same book and called themselves the Remain Party and so tried to appropriate to themselves that generic mantle. Alternatively, if they wanted something with a longer shelf-life, the Centre Party would have defined where they stood in the political spectrum.

4. They failed to recruit members and build a movement

By chance, Change had a massive opportunity to build a political movement. Not long after they launched, a petition was registered on the government website demanding that Article 50 be revoked, which gathered an extraordinary six million signatures. These people should have been Change’s target voters and the coincidence of timing, plus the fact that no party was offering Revoke, meant that Change could and should have built a movement around that premise. Had they ridden the wave, they probably could have recruited tens, if not hundreds of thousands of supporters and members, as well as millions in donations and subscriptions. They failed to do anything.

5. They failed to establish a niche political position

New or small political parties need to offer something different: Change UK doesn’t. Following on from the point above, the obvious one was to move outright to Revoke, which is beyond what either the Lib Dems or Greens advocate (although the Lib Dems are getting there now). Sure, it would have been criticised by Brexiteers and others as undemocratic but if you’re worried about criticism, keep your head down and don’t defect. As an aside, going straight for Revoke and the 6m petitioners would have put huge pressure on the Lib Dems to follow suit, and on Labour to move more assertively to Remain, which would of itself have demonstrated their power and relevance, as well as advancing their cause.

6. They failed to contest the local elections

Having messed up on points 1-5, not contesting the local elections was probably a blessing. A lack of candidates, policies or organisation would probably have led to a smattering of poor results and an embarrassing contrast with the Lib Dems. At least this way no-one noticed. But a political party that doesn’t contest elections (they’re not standing in Peterborough either), is about as useful as a radio that doesn’t produce sound. On the other hand, if they’d got the earlier organisation right, they could have not only blunted (or prevented) the Lib Dem recovery but could have made themselves one of the stories of the night and then next few weeks.

7. They’ve failed to play the media game

Change UK seem to have the view that the world owes them a hearing. It doesn’t. Minor parties literally need to make the news if they want to be on it. Partly that’s about proactively badgering broadcasters and publishers that they want to be on but also it’s about putting on media stunts. Again, Farage knows what he’s doing there. Similarly, Caroline Lucas for the Greens has no trouble generating publicity for herself and her party by less orthodox methods, for example deliberately being arrested at demonstrations. Obviously, you need to play to your audience but the point is that far more politics happens beyond Westminster than Change is willing to accept or embrace.

What the MPs of Change UK failed to recognise – and to a large extent, still fail to recognise – is that they crossed a Rubicon when they left their former parties. By forming a new party, they are in direct competition with Labour and the Lib Dems (never mind the ill-will both parties have reason to bear, the former for the defection of the turncoats; the latter for them having rejected a direct defection). They are fishing in the same pools and cannot expect to be treated as fellow travellers in a common cause. That failure of understanding was amply demonstrated by Change blaming Labour (who are defending the seat) for reminding a proto-Remain alliance that Labour would actively campaign against the independent candidate the Remain parties wanted to back. Campaigning against your opponents is what you do in an election and what you can reasonably expect your opponents to do to you.

Where should Change UK go from here?

Trying to discern Change’s intended strategy from their actions is probably about as useful as looking for hints to Gaussian mathematics in a bowl of porridge. If they’d launched their party with flair and dynamism, they might well be in the mid-teens in the polls now. That might sound excessive but they peaked at 18% with YouGov in the week after they launched (three times the Lib Dem score, and against a 36% Con share – much has changed since February). Suppose they’d been able to sweep up much of the 6m Revoke vote: it could have been them rather than the Lib Dems making big gains at the local elections. In the medium term they could realistically hope to either replace the Lib Dems outright (in the same way that the Brexit Party will almost certainly replace UKIP), or to bargain for a merger from a position of strength, marrying Lib Dem experience, data and activists with Change support and members. That cannot now happen: they have nothing to trade.

Instead, their future must either take them out of politics altogether or into an existing party, which has to be the Lib Dems. Their initiative has ground to a halt through its own lack of momentum. Who would now join them, either in parliament or as activists and members? What purpose do they serve?

Change UK’s multiple failures, which of themselves must be hugely off-putting for potential recruits, have left them with no voice and no future. Given the difficulties and divisions within Labour and the Tories, there is still plenty of scope for realignment within Britain’s politics. To the extent that Change has any role in that, it is purely as a cautionary tale as to how not to do it.

David Herdson


“Bollocks to Brexit!” will be a net vote gainer not a vote loser for the LDs

Friday, May 10th, 2019

Lots of talk over the past 24 hours about the Lib Dem slogan on one of its leaflets for the European parliament election campaign. Clearly the word “bollocks” is one that is on the very margins of what is acceptable in polite society but it does get home the message well.

Also “Bollocks to Brexit” has the added advantage of alliteration and it is very clear where the party stands. This in sharp contrast to Corbyn’s LAB which is hamstrung in this election by not being able to be unequivocal. Is it for Brexit or against?

When like the LDs you’re not one of the big two parties, or Nigel Farage, it is very hard to command the attention of the media. This is still the case even after last week’s local elections which saw enormous gains for the LDs against both Labour and the Conservatives.

There’s another battle that’s taking place on May 23rd and that is which is the strongest voice for Remain. These are elections when normal party loyalties tend to be abandoned and it is all about simple positioning.

It was interesting that CHUK’s MP, Anna Soubry, has been one of the most vocal in attacking Lib Dem choice of wording. For it this new party that is most vulnerable to a revived Liberal Democrats. CHUK, a breakaway founded by CON and LAB MPs in February didn’t contest the local elections at all but quite clearly, is hoping for a boost in the May 23rd vote.

It has run into issues with its logo which does not appear on ballot papers but clearly it is aiming for a part of the market that the Lib Dems are competing very actively over. The yellows of course are an established party with strong organisation in areas where they have achieved local government success which is in marked contrast with CHUK.

The Lib Dems are also competing for the unequivocal remain section of the electorate that with the Green Party which of course is much more established and has a Westminster presence.

What last week’s local results have done is to make it easier for the Lib Dems to present themselves as the prime voice of Remain and it will be interesting to see how they perform. It is possible that they could get into third place ahead of the Conservatives.

Mike Smithson



On the eve of LE2019 Corbyn’s LAB appears as totally divided as TMay’s Tories

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

How’s this going to play out tomorrow?

The Tweet above might or might not be accurate but it comes at a very tricky time on the eve of this years locals. Because this years elections do not include London it has attracted for less media coverage than you’d expect. This is not unusual. The political media is based at Westminster and is very London-centric.

Generally the pattern has been that the timing of the locals are put back in years when there are Euro elections so they take place on the same day. Clearly with the uncertainty over Britain’s position on Brexit that could not be arranged and indeed it is not totally certain at the moment that the May 23rd Euro elections will actually take place.

This brings us to tomorrow’s votes which cover almost all of England with the exception of London and one or two counties. This is the biggest group of locals to take place on the four year cycle that we are all used to.

The signs were that LAB was expected to recover some of the grounded lost last time most of these seats were fought which was on General Election day in 2015. Gains have been predicted but could the scale be affected by LAB’s Brexit split?

For yesterday’s decision by the Corbyn leadership puts it very much against many party supporters and indeed a number of MPs and activists. This is going to be very difficult to manage. The talk of of leading figures quitting the party might not play well amongst voters and certainly won’t help local turnouts.

A Keir Starmer resignation would be massive and it is hard to see how this can be avoided. The former DPP has become a big figure in the party and it is hard to see how he carries on given decision like yesterday. Also humiliated was the LAB Deputy leader Tom Watson.

Starmer would make a good leader for CHUK.

Mike Smithson


ChangeUK is in danger of running out of steam and it has only itself to blame

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

Having to face two big elections in a very short period of time looks as though it has taken its toll on TIG following what appear to have been a number of strategic mistakes.

The following comment by IanB2 on the PB thread last night, is a good analysis and is worthy of a full thread on its own.

“..Sad to say, I am beginning to think that TIG has blown its chance.,,They ducked the opportunity to do a policy declaration a la Limehouse, because both Tory and Labour defectors wanted to cling to the belief that “they didn’t leave their party, it left them”, which obviously doesn’t compute. So there was no call to arms for people looking for a new approach to politics.

They oversold the prospect of getting a steady flow of recruits. Even on political reform only Chuka has tried to set out a comprehensive agenda, leaving doubts as to what their MPs really think about PR or Lords reform. Their social media performance has been somewhat lame. Their choice of name doesn’t really work and their very poor logo wasn’t accepted by the EC. They gave a cold shoulder to the LibDems and don’t really seem to understand what it means to be a third party in our political system.

Now it looks like they could become merely a vehicle for former MPs who lost their seats and former MEPs rejected by the main parties to try and resurrect their careers. Candidates chosen and ordered into a list by an opaque interview process, because they don’t yet have any formal membership structure. An end point a very long way from the change they initially promised. Indeed aside from Chuka’s political reform speech and some stirring opposition to Brexit from Soubry and Leslie, it isn’t clear what they actually offer, and it certainly doesn’t appear to include very much ‘change’.

The sadness is that if they fail, it will close off the chance for others to do a better job. Leaving Farage as the only chance of ‘breaking the mould’ – and he is surely likely to lose interest once Brexit is out the way, whatever he says now about his longer term objective.”

To my mind the things that the new grouping got most wrong was its approach to the discussions with the Liberal Democrats. They seemed to start from the point that they were in a much more powerful position then they actually were.

Mike Smithson


Since TIG was formed the Tories have enjoyed leads of between 4% and 11% in the standard voting intention polls

Friday, March 15th, 2019

Assessing the impact new group after its first month

It is now almost a month since Chuka Umunna and others made their much publicised departure from LAB joining the new the Independent Group. The Wikipedia table above shows that’s happened in the standard voting polls since.

These are separate from the surveys where there has been a special prompt for the new grouping which has produced some quite dramatic outcomes. In many ways responses have been dependent on the format of the question that it is put in the online surveys.

In the standard polls the interesting column in the table is the “others” one. This is where you would assume those who planned to vote for the Independent group at the next election would make their choice. As can be seen the “others” figure has not been unusually inflated with the exception of the two YouGov polls where Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party has been included in the prompts.

TIG is not yet a political party and we really have no idea how it sees itself developing. But we have one and possibly two sets of major elections coming up in the next few weeks and the question is whether TIG will seek to put up candidates.

If it was following the SDP model of the early 1980s it would be flooding the local elections and picking up seats and certainly participating in the Euros if those in fact take place.

A problem about TIG not being an official party is that it makes it harder to participate in elections. Certainly independent group candidates could stand but there would be no logo attached alongside the candidate’s name as you would see in relation to other parties.

We’ve also had Tom Watson’s new grouping within LAB which might have had an impact in stemming the flow of defectors though what Watson’s objectives are in the long-term we do not know.

Chuka and his colleagues need to decide pretty quickly what they are trying to do to avoid just being a historical footnote.

Mike Smithson


The seven’s great strength is that they’ve not tried to be too ambitious

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

The Independent Group is a vehicle designed for flexibility

In March 1981 I was working at BBC News on the day of the famous Limehouse declaration which saw the launch of the SDP, the last big break away from the Labour Party. This was a massive development which until yesterday shaped our views of what a breakaway should look like.

What Chuka and the other six MPs did yesterday was so different to 1981 because they weren’t creating a new party. The group they’ve designed has one initial purpose and that was to be a vehicle for them to leave Labour and provide a means for others to follow from the Tories and other parties.

This meant that they did not have to have a policy platform and go through all the machinations that would have been involved in the creation of a new party. The group might well at some stage lead to that but politics is in such a flux at the moment that it was wise not to be too rigid in what they created.

This also helped with the required secrecy in the days leading up to yesterday. There was knowledge that a number of Labour MPs and some Tory ones weren’t comfortable with where the two old parties are at the moment but there was little idea what would be announced yesterday morning. This made it harder for continuity Labour to attack them and the media focus has been on the departure alone.

    Having a new party would have given Labour something specific to attack and undermine from day one. Instead the focus has been on the state of Corbyn’s Labour.

The idea that has been floated many times of a grand body of rebels from the Conservatives and Labour joining with the Lib Dems and the Greens and so on might still happen but it needs to develop organically and will be very influenced by events.

So it is entirely feasible for those Conservatives who feel under pressure to join the Chuka group without taking on board a preordained policy platform.

My guess is that the group will want to go on making the headlines and that some Tory MPs will join quite soon each development getting more coverage.

Mike Smithson