Heidi Allen was interviewed on the Today programme this morning. She faced a tough set of questions, mainly because of how bad things have got for Change UK in such a short period of time. Asked about her defecting to the Lib Dems, she said she wouldn’t be. But her plan for what to do instead sounded bleak:
“Will I stand again in South Cambridgeshire, my constituency, as Change UK? Whatever format, let’s hope we know, depends when the new general election comes, later rather than sooner. If we’ve managed to bring together other MPs from the House of Commons, the format might be slightly different.”
I don’t really blame her for sounding vague – it wasn’t supposed to be like this. When the Independent Group first came together, and particularly when the three Tory MPs defected to it, there was a sense that they were about to change politics for the better, for good. I certainly felt optimistic about the whole thing. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a complete nightmare. If you had scripted it all before it happened as a long form Thick Of It special, most of what has taken place would seem too extreme to be funny. The barcode logo. The terrible bus. Funny tinge. Chuka saying the reason people should vote Change instead of Lib Dems is because people might want to support a party that is anti-Brexit that did not bring austerity to the county – while standing right next to Anna Soubry.
What next for Change UK’s eleven MPs? They look set for a very bad result on Thursday – probably no MEPs whatsoever, which given what they were set up to do, will be pretty damning. It seems obvious that they will then need to eventually melt into the Lib Dems.
They won’t want to do it immediately for fear of looking desperate. Yet the longer they wait, the less leverage they will have whenever they do defect. For instance, had they just immediately joined the Lib Dems back in February, they could have claimed to be responsible for the poll surge and local election results. They would have found that getting their people into positions within the rightly infamous maze of Lib Dem machinery was much easier as a result. If they joined today, however, it would be from a much weakened position. But the longer they wait, the weaker their position continues to become.
The worst of it is, a prolonged wait for the Change UK MPs to join will be bad for the Lib Dems as well. If the eleven joined today, a few of them could enter the leadership contest and at the very least, make them a lot more meaningful and robust. Given they’ll need to prevaricate following the likely bad result on Thursday, they won’t even be in the fold for that. The Lib Dems could also immediately solidify their position as the one anti-Brexit party that has a real chance of stopping it from happening if their parliamentary party doubled in size next week.
Sadly, I cannot see this unfolding in a way that is neat or beneficial to the anti-Brexit cause. Much more likely is that the drama will simply go on for a while as Change tries and fails to re-launch itself, acting as an unnecessary drag on the unforeseen Lib Dem surge.
Paul Barker says
An alternative would be to negotiate a “New Alliance” between LDs, Change & The Greens, that Alliance could have an overall Leader, not one of The Party Leaders.Even the negotiations themselves could boost support for all 3 Parties, if handled well, in the same way that Leadership Elections can help a Party.
Isn’t their big problem with joining that the Lib Dems, who are after all totally OCD about these things, presumably already have prospective MP candidates picked out for those constituencies (don’t they pick them out about eleven microseconds after the last election?) who are presumably long-term Lib Dem members who wouldn’t be at all happy about being asked to stand down in favour of these partyless refugees, and who would fight any efforts to compell them to do so through the arcane Lib Dem procedures, a battlefied where they would have considerable home-ground advantage?
(It baffles me why someone with Heidi Allen’s views ever joined the Conservative party, let alone stood for election for them. Shouldn’t she have been in the Liberal Democrats all along?)
The TIGgers by creating a bit of a splash, can already credit a nudge in favour for LIb Dems. They have also had a little bit of an effect on both Labour and Conservatives, but only a pause in their desertion of a more middle ground.
No politician can ever be expected to announce a defection in an unscripted interview, a few days before an election it is daft and actually somewhat mendacious of an interviewer to put the question, so the response means nothing.
I would be unsurprised if the LIb Dems do not try to establish a parliamentary anti-Brexit alliance, perhaps next week, with tacit agreement not to oppose MPs who are willing to work with the Lib Dems.
There is a chance of a relaunch, because the aftermath of the EU elections, another failed attempt to pass the Withdrawal Agreement and a Tory leadership free for all, may well be bloody. In fact this might be necessary before the group finds a more sustainable relationship with Lib Dems.
Your suggestion that some of the new group could be leadership contenders is naïve, such a move would only further undermine their standing.
Time and timing are the problems; a general Election could be sooner rather than later. The current state of Tory thinking (yes, I know that is not the appropriate word) might be that an election on Thursday, October 31 is how to sort out Brexit. – Anything to muddy the water, anything to make any sort of agreement impossible. Whether behind the scenes or up front the new group will have to sort out a working relationship with the Liberal Democrats forthwith. The reality was always obvious that Lib Dems have a (admittedly patchy) national organisation, councillors and teams of foot-soldiers, inevitably making them the senior party.
Political parties tend to stick around – viz the SDP. but at least it had put down some roots. IF CHUK do as badly as looks likely then it is very difficult to see it having much future. No further MP defections are likely on such a low poll rating. Boris if elected might well tack to the left on issues other than Brexit (he was reasonably to the left within the Tories as Mayor of London) and indeed be relatively generous to giving Government posts to Remainers. And Tom Watson has stemmed the bleeding in the Labour party. And CHUK won’t have developed the “NCO” cadre of councillors and council candidates that are essential for any political party as UKIP and the SDP did and the Brexit Party will (mainly from ex-kippers). The sticking point is the esprit d’corps between the 11 MPs – they are obviously pretty close between themselves and they won’t want to let each other down.
Sarah Wollaston MIGHT be the most likely to jump ship as she described herself as a pragmatist and comes from the West Country – she is somewhat in the Emma Nicholson mould. Whether the Lib Dems there would select her as their PPC I don’t know – probably not but she might get a peerage etc.
Of the others most as with the SDP are likely to lose their seats with just possibly Chukka Umunna and Allen having a possibility of retaining their seats. But clearly the Lib Dems would be well advised to take them – it would be a further boost to them – and they would be well advise to jump ship – they might get something out of it.
chris moore says
Nick, you say “If the eleven joined today, a few of them could enter the leadership contest and at the very least, make them a lot more meaningful and robust. ”
None of the Tiggers has leadership potential.Or indeed any resonance in the wider electorate. Fantasies about them being the seed for re-alignment were just that – fantasies.
A very bad result for CHUK in the Euros might induce a tad of realism into their self-entitled thnking; they were initially helped along in their delusions of grandeur by a very uncritical commentariat – not wishing to mention any names. Such realism would be very helpful indeed in any potential negotiation.
Most of the commentariat btw has also been completely blind to the Lib Dem revival until Friday after the locals.
Many of the standard criticisms of the Lib Dems – toxic, Vince clapped out, confused etc etc – are utterly lazy bear little relation to reality and are merely tropes to subsitute for real research — heaven forbid.
None of the Tiggers has leadership potential
I dunno… I think one of the more interesting ‘what if’s of recent politic is ‘what if Chuka Umunna hadn’t got shy and pulled out of the Labour leadership contest?’
He might not have won… but on the other hand it wouldn’t have meant Corbyn was facing a bunch of opponents who had as little charisma as him. And if he had become leader, he would have been much more active campaigning for Remain, so the referendum might have been lost rather than won…
It’s an idle musing. I wonder if he himself ever wonders what might have been.
Paul W says
“so the referendum might have been lost rather than won…”
*Won* rather than lost surely?
I suppose it depends which side you’re on.
I tend to look askance at defectors from other Parties. Some of them may very well have a Liberal outlook, but being a Centrist does not a Liberal make. You can be both centrist and authoritarian.
Here is one example from my own knowledge: several months before the 1997 General Election we were told by Party HQ that our then current MP, Hugh Dykes, was willing to join the Lib Dems if we agreed to select him as our PPC. The local Party’s response was that we would expect any Lib Dem MP to do at least the level of constituency work that our local councillors did for residents. That was the last we heard until well after the election when we learnt that he had joined the Party (he didn’t live in the constituency he had represented). Some time later he was nominated as a Lib Dem Peer, but he is now a crossbencher.