Change UK – The big question is for the Lib Dems

I don’t think anyone was quite sure what this logo was supposed to mean which was perhaps not surprising in a Party where people joined from different traditions and therefore had no clear mutual identity.

Like many Lib Dems I have been more than a little disappointed with Change UK. Their launch was poorly executed; their decision to fight the EU elections ill thought out; their battle bus so badly designed that even I could have done better.

Indeed, I have just read, admittedly in Guido Fawkes, that there is a meting tomorrow to decide the future of this new-born Party with at least one Change UK MP likely to come straight over to us.

Perhaps most wounding of all was their leaked memo which showed that their number one priority was to get rid of us by pinching our members; PPCs; councillors; donors and votes. That was so naïve. It was never likely to happen and certainly will never happen now given our surge in members; MEPs and votes.

The response from most Lib Dems is twofold. Either “they are so small we can roll over them”, or “they are so deceitful we cannot trust them.”

I don’t think either of those is the right approach. I look back at the influx of people who became energised and went into politics as a result of the SDP creation. Within three years SDP members who the Liberals could not work with had largely left politics. It was not the route to easy political pickings that some of them thought it would be. It just wasn’t as exciting after the heady days of the big launch as after the first three leaflet drops! Those who were left were good people who largely shared our policies and largely shared our bottom up, community led approach to the business of politics.

Within a very short space of time those people had become indistinguishable from those of us who went on to become founder members of the Lib Dems from the Liberal Party side. These were people like Flo Clucas in Liverpool who became the leading Lib Dem within the Committee of the Regions and a chap called Vince Cable who went on to another job!  I didn’t think much of this at the time but since then I have often asked myself the question “Why didn’t they join the Liberal Party (as we were then) in the first place?”

That’s a question I have asked myself repeatedly since February. All the mistakes have been made around the Westminster Change UK team who have little experience of the grim reality (not so grim these days!) of being in a third party. When I look at their team who fought the elections in the North-West, I liked all those that I met. I want to work with them. I hope to serve alongside them in the Council and I hope that will go along to elected office and become Leaders of the future. I believe that we do share so many policies and principles that my differences with some of them might be smaller than my differences with some Lib Dems.

I look at two in particular. The lead Change UK candidate, Andrea Cooper. lives in my ward. I know her parents very well. I instinctively liked her on the three occasions we met during the election. She has an impressive CV in community led and social enterprise type activity which is very similar to the work that which I used to do. What did I do wrong that she didn’t immediately see that she could do things to bring about her political beliefs through a Party she knows well? Yes, I am arranging to go and see her as soon as I return from my holiday!

One of the other candidates was a bright young former Labour councillor in Warrington, Cllr Dan Price. As with Andrea I felt an immediate rapport when he came looking for votes, a little forlornly, in my ward. Within Warrington the Lib Dems have always been a reasonably strong Party and led the Council for a number of years. He would never have been a lone voice on the back benches if he had left Labour for us. So why didn’t he?

If we are really to first attract and then retain talent like these two in our Lib Dem Party, we must question ourselves; the way we behave and the way we present ourselves to other liberals. So, my first self-imposed task is to go and ask that question. My second is to work out how, in one way or another, we can work with the talented people that Change UK have brought in and strengthen the liberal positions in every elected chamber in the Country. My third task is to ensure that those who do want to join us, 75 since Christmas in Liverpool, are properly welcomed in and do not feel that they need to be initiated into a closed grouping.

Those are my tasks but I also really believe that those are the tasks we should all be undertaking locally and nationally. Do this right and continue to extend the hand of friendship to good people and together we will really be able to make a difference. Do this wrong and we will have shown ourselves to be as illiberal and clannish as those who we fight in the other Parties.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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