Lib Dems suffer exodus of donors as multiple backers switch to the Independent Group

Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images
  • Exclusive: A number of Liberal Democrat donors have deserted the party following the creation of the new anti-Brexit Independent Group of MPs.
  • Lib Dem sources say the party is struggling to finance national campaigns.
  • “A couple [of major donors] have moved and they are worried more will jump ship,” insiders tell BI.
  • Other major donors are still “waiting” to judge the success of the new independent group.
  • The party is considering electoral pacts with TIG MPs, including former Labour MP Luciana Berger in Liverpool.

LONDON – The Liberal Democrats are worried about a potential exodus of financial backers, after a number of donors withdrew their support to get behind the new anti-Brexit Independent Group of MPs.

British politics was rocked last week after eight MPs quit Labour and three left the Conservatives to join the grouping which backs a new Brexit referendum, or “People’s Vote,” and is dismayed by the leadership of their former parties.

Following their departure, Charlie Mullins, the anti-Brexit owner of Pimlico Plumbers, confirmed that he intends to support TIG after previously donating £25,000 to the Sir Vince Cable-led Liberal Democrats in 2018.

Multiple sources have told Business Insider that other major donors are either holding back funds from the Lib Dems, or have already walked away from the party to pump money into TIG.

“A couple have moved and they are worried more will jump ship,” one Lib Dem source told BI, while another well-placed Lib Dem figure said that the party’s internal financial projections had taken a blow.

Even before the recent launch of TIG, the Lib Dems had been suffering a hole in its finances, leading to the party making some of its staff redundant towards the end of last year.

“The party has been struggling to get donors to fund national projects,” one senior Lib Dem figure told BI.

“The begging bowl went out before Christmas and our targets just aren’t being met.”

The begging bowl went out before Christmas and our targets just aren’t being met.

One Lib Dem insider insisted that most of the party’s donors still “see a clear role for Lib Dems” and intended to stick with them as “they want to see Lib Dems at heart of whatever emerges.”

They also claimed that the party had enjoyed a mini-surge in new members over the last week.

Another source said that the party’s local donors were remaining behind the party for now, and added that some major donors were still “waiting” to see what the new Independent Group does nationally before switching sides.

TIG had a “convener” in Gavin Shuker MP at the time of writing, but no leader, manifesto, or official party status.

The Lib Dems have also been buoyed by the lack of their own MPs walking out and joining TIG.

However, Lib Dem sources said it was possible that some of their MPs could yet join the group, with the former coalition government minister Norman Lamb considered the most likely to jump ship.

Lib Dems offer to ‘work together’ with TIG

Luciana BergerGettyFormer Labour MP Luciana Berger surrounded by her new colleagues in the Independent Group.

Others in the Lib Dems are considering forging a more formal alliance with the fledgling party, which could possibly come into play at the next general election.

One senior Lib Dem source told BI that the party would be prepared to stand aside in seats which TIG MPs would have a better chance of winning, claiming “there are conversations to be had” about cross-party cooperation.

Last week, the leader of the Lib Dems on Liverpool council, Richard Kemp, wrote to Independent Group MP Luciana Berger, signalling a possible electoral pact in her Wavertree seat.

“We would like to meet with you and chat openly and honestly about what we agree and disagree on and how we might work together in both campaigning and electoral terms to deliver what your grouping and the Liberal Democrats both desire,” Kemp wrote to Berger.

One senior Lib Dem figure told BI that the Liverpool Lib Dems were considering a possible pact with Berger, in which they would step aside at the next general election in exchange for Berger’s supporters stepping aside in the upcoming local elections.

The Independent Group has so far publicly rejected such attempts to combine forces, with member Chris Leslie insisting that they should concentrate instead “creating something different” to existing political parties.

However, a formal alliance could find favour with Liberal Democrat leader Cable, who has already talked about opening up the party to non-members, and allowing non-MPs be leader.

One insider said that that Cable had “spent the past year or so talking to MPs with whom the party might share common ground.”

They added: “[Cable] was one of the few politicians who understood the potential for a seismic realignment and could see what opportunities and difficulties that could result in for the Lib Dems.”

Cable is in close contact with TIG members, particularly Leslie and Chuka Umunna MP. The three have worked together on the People’s Vote campaign and were discussing a new “centrist” movement as early as last summer.

Cable has also said that the Lib Dems would be prepared to work with TIG in future elections.

“It would be foolish for my party and this Independent Group to fight with each other and compete with each other in elections. The first-past-the-post system means that we would damage each other very badly,” he said last week.

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