Change UK: what do The Independent Group stand for?

New political party promises to fight “David versus Goliath” battle at upcoming European elections

Chuka Umunna
Chuka Umunna
(Image credit: 2012 Getty Images)

Change UK has formally become Britain’s newest political party, opening the way for the breakaway centrist movement founded just two months ago to field candidates in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

MPs from The Independent Group, led by the former Conservative Heidi Allen, are now working through some 3,700 expressions of interest in being a candidate in the elections, to be held on 23 May.

The group consists of 11 former Labour and Tory MPs: Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker, Ann Coffey, Joan Ryan, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston.

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Ideally, the group would have taken more time to formally establish themselves, but the European elections “are a contest that they can’t afford to miss, so they have had to accelerate their development”, says The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush.

So what does this new bloc stand for? Here are their plans for the upcoming elections and the highlights of their first mission statement:

David versus Goliath

The party will launch its European Parliament election campaign next week promising to fight a “David versus Goliath” battle for a second EU referendum.

Leader Heidi Allen told HuffPost last week: “This is a fight for Britain’s voice in Europe. Change UK – The Independent Group have a clear message in the European elections: we demand a People’s Vote and, if it is held, all our MPs will campaign to remain in and reform the European Union.”

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, had wanted an electoral alliance for the European elections between his party and the group. He said in March it would be “very damaging for both sides” to be competing for votes.

However, the two parties “have been unable to reach an agreement”, says the Financial Times.

A senior Lib Dem figure said Change UK “weren’t interested” in an alliance, and wanted to use the elections “to try out their own brand”.

One source told The Times that Change UK had comparatively limited resources: “We’re not going to be doing deals with people like the Lib Dems. We’re just going to make the argument.”

On the party’s aspirations beyond the Brexit debate, Allen said: “We are starting with a blank piece of paper in every policy area, and we will build policy from evidence. We are literally starting again.”

Middle ground

In a swipe at the alleged hard-left takeover of the Labour Party, the IG says it will pursue “policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology” - although they have yet to share any specific policies.

In fact, “the group is primarily defined by what it is against: Jeremy Corbyn’s economic and foreign policy stances”, says the New Statesman.

In particular, the group claims the Labour party in its current form is “hostile to businesses” and “threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”.

The party throws its weight behind a “diverse, mixed social market economy”, which supports both private enterprise and social responsibility.

The IG also appears to distance itself from a class-based view of society, in favour of a centrist worldview which values both equality of opportunity and personal responsibility as a means to improve social mobility.

Speaking this morning, Umunna claimed that the Labour leadership “constantly pit one part of society against another because to them the world divides between oppressor and oppressed”, adding that “in truth the modern world is more complicated than this”.

However, on many issues the group shares common ground with Labour, with commitments to protecting the environment, defending the NHS and other public services, and decentralising power to local authorities.

In March, Umunna published a pamphlet outlining six key values that he believes progressive politicians could “rally around”, marking the first move by the new group towards a debut manifesto.

The Streatham MP has included what the London Evening Standard describes as “bold proposals” including a compulsory form of “national service” for school leavers, state funding for political parties, and an end to excessive pay in the boardroom.

In the document, Umunna also set out six key values for a progressive party: Unity, Reciprocity, Work, Family and Community, Democracy, and Patriotic Internationalism.

A broad church

A central theme to the IG’s mission statement is diversity of opinion and tolerance of dissenting views.

“Visceral hatreds of other people, views and opinions are commonplace in and around the Labour Party,” the group claims, adding that every member of the new bloc will be guaranteed a “right to be heard”.

Labour’s pro-Corbyn faction has repeatedly been accused of ignoring, drowning out and even actively persecuting moderate MPs, including campaigns to target centrists for deselection.

In a statement explaining his decision to leave Labour, former shadow chancellor Leslie said the party has been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”, while Stockport MP Coffey lamented that Labour was “no longer a broad church”.

Patriotic opposition

The opening line of the IG’s mission statement appears to lay out the party as a patriotic alternative to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

Corbyn and his close cohorts have faced intense scrutiny over their perceived hostility to the military and police, as well as past associations with groups considered terrorist organisations, such as Hamas and the IRA.

Last year, the Daily Mail claimed Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott had “devoted their lives to befriending the enemies of Britain while undermining the very institutions that keep us safe in our beds”.

In contrast, the IG statement opens with the words: “Ours is a great country of which people are rightly proud”, and continues by vowing to safeguard national security and strengthen Britain’s ties with its international allies.

So could the IG prove a genuine rival to Labour? “There’s a long way to go” before we know whether the new group - which currently has no leader and is still to have its first formal meeting - is electorally viable”, says political commentator Iain Dale.

However, “given the launch of The Brexit Party… It's perfectly possible to imagine a situation where we have five parties competing for votes soon, each with a double-figure poll rating”.

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