To get this out of the way: I in no way wish to mock the way things have turned out for Change UK. When they all left their respective parties, I had great hopes that they would become a major force in British politics. I still applaud their courage, if not their political and strategic nous.
Yesterday, half of the group split off from the original eleven. Weirdly, they didn’t immediately join the Lib Dems, but instead announced that they would be some independent grouping again – The Independent Group, perhaps? This is just silly – they should have just gone ahead and joined the Lib Dems. They are either going to do so eventually or face electoral oblivion, so they would have been better off joining as soon as possible. The more they delay, the less credit they will get inside of the party they are about to join.
What has the four month car crash that was Change UK taught us then?
One, if you’re going to start something new in politics, figure out exactly what your pitch is before you launch. Ask yourself one simple question: why should people vote for us and not someone else? Look at the Brexit Party’s answer: because we’re more Brexity than anyone else. Simple, easy to understand. Think about the same question posed to The Independent Group: we don’t like our parties, but we’re splitting to create something new that will nonetheless be a call back to the older traditions of the parties we come from, and we’re Remainy but that’s not our raison d’être, and we’re sort of right wing on some stuff but lefty on……and everyone has stopped paying attention already.
Two, it’s the 21st century already; branding, messaging, social media, these all really, really matter. If you’re thinking of starting a political party in the near future, look into who does all those things really well and then hire them, as opposed to thinking about which low level New Labour apparatchik needs a paycheque. Not to say that Change UK did the latter – I actually have no idea who worked for them – it just sure smelled like that was what they did.
Three, before you go off and put your political careers on the line, talk about what you all want the party to stand for, what stuff you’re going to do in your first year, and then agree to it amongst yourselves as a plan. Pick a leader while you’re at it. Again, before you launch.
I hope, for everyone’s sake, Chuka and the rest of them join the Lib Dems as soon as possible. By way of welcome to the Lib Dem fold, I can only say to the six leaving Change UK the following: some Lib Dems will be welcoming to you joining, others will not. The ones who won’t be welcoming are mostly from the anarchist, no-one-understands me wing of the party. Just avoid them; those of us who at any point were party members did so as much as possible. They are loud but there a fewer of them than you think. Perhaps bury that policy idea involving mandatory child conscription, but otherwise do what you can to make the Lib Dems a bigger tent. It’s going to have to become one.