When news broke of Chuka Umunna’s move to the Liberal Democrats, a mixed response greeted the Streatham MP. Anger, cynicism, and acceptance: all forming a difficult problem to answer.
For the record, I’m not a fan of Chuka Umunna. I certainly respect him as an MP and voice against knife crime. But to me, his political career has been slowly shaped and moulded from day one, like a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel. There’s no denying that his changing loyalties have presented him as a problematic MP to pin down. However, his most recent move to the Liberal Democrats has posited a larger debate over our relationship with MPs and their parties.
You have to ask yourself, why on earth didn’t the Change UK lot just try for the Lib Dems in the first place? Their short appearance in our political chronicle has been both shambolic and disappointing. But here’s where the problem lies. Once you begin to criticise Chuka’s move to the Lib Dems, you fall back to his original departure from Labour. It’s a process of criticism carrying heavy baggage. So, here’s the statement, that as a non-member of any party, I think can be applied to this situation:
It is okay to criticise and satirise the politics of Chuka and the Change UK team. It is also wholly reasonable to respect their decisions for leaving their parties. It is not a binary position.
Is that fair? Look at the situation with a bird’s eye view. The eight Labour MPs left for completely judicious reasons, which in hindsight have only vindicated their departure. Similar can be said of the three Conservatives who ripped up their membership cards in disgust over the party’s lurch to the right. Those instances are sacrosanct and personal to the MPs. Several of them left their parties after years of being a member.
Nevertheless, it is still a totally acceptable position to criticise what has happened since they left. The Change UK project (or whatever name it’s pulled out of a hat) has been a utter failure. They began with principled intentions, but as we’ve seen from Streatham’s own, have left in humiliation. It’s worth pointing out that Change UK does, somehow, still exist with five MPs. I’d tell you the name, but it’ll change by the time this has been published.
“They arrogantly expected the world to fall at their feet, and MPs of both sides to come rushing in support. None came.”
It’s also important to note the emotional pressure this project took. They arrogantly expected the world to fall at their feet, and MPs of both sides to come rushing in support. None came. Their EU election results were dismal and quickly led to more criticism from Remain voices for splitting the vote. You can tell there’s been a feeling of utter disappointment from Anna Soubry’s comments after Chuka and five others left: “I will always be more sad than you can imagine that Chuka is not with us. I think he’s a man of huge ability and talents, and I think he has made a very serious mistake.”
Soubry and Umunna had battled together on the Remain benches since Brexit heated up. She later said she believed he should be the Prime Minister, and was a major reason for her leaving the Tories. Whatever your politics, you can’t deny that a friendship was likely torn in two through this decision.
The question now is whether anyone else will be joining Chuka in the Lib Dems. According to numerous sources, the former Tories Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston will be trotting over to Vince’s bench. This poses a more significant issue: should they be allowed to join without a by-election? There’s nothing in the rulebook against the partisan flip-flopping we’ve seen. It’s just a question of morals whether it should go ahead.
“Should they be allowed to join without a by-election? My answer is no. I can understand leaving to become ‘independent’ MPs, but to then flip to a major party with a significant base in local activism, is undemocratic.”
My answer is no. I can understand leaving to become ‘independent’ MPs, but to then flip to a major party with a significant base in local activism, is undemocratic. Their constituents and local activists will no doubt be confused, angry, and wanting to make a choice. These MPs are campaigners for a second referendum, a democratic right to vote. Denying their constituents a chance to have their say on this latest application would be hypocrisy. As for Chuka? Whether he lasts long in the Lib Dems is another matter, but my money’s on the 11 brave MPs being the victims of an undeniable reality: being voted out.🔷
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